SALT LAKE CITY – Police acknowledged Thursday that they were looking at the extended family of the teen girl apparently kidnapped at gunpoint from her home, but they said it was not the main avenue of the investigation.
"I would say [it is] one of many theories," said Salt Lake Police Capt. Scott Atkinson. On the ninth day of the search for 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart, police also are looking at the neighborhood and everyone who knows the teen. She disappeared June 5.
In a story in Thursday editions, The Salt Lake Tribune reported that detectives believe a family member could have been involved because they have been unable to explain how the abductor could have entered the house through the small window that appeared to be the entry point.
It said investigators have surmised that a window screen appeared to have been cut from the inside, possibly to make it look like a break-in.
In an interview Thursday with cable channel MSNBC, one of the reporters on the story said the police theory was speculative.
The newspaper said its information came from four sources, which it did not identify. But detective Dwayne Baird told The Associated Press that "whoever made reference to four law enforcement sources was not referring to the inner circle" of investigators.
The newspaper said it stands by the story.
Elizabeth's extended family is large. Her mother, Lois, is the second-youngest of eight siblings; her father, Ed, is the second-oldest of six. She has at least 70 first cousins.
On Thursday afternoon, David Francom, Elizabeth's uncle, told reporters that they are not concerned about the newspaper's report. They are only concerned about getting Elizabeth back, he said.
"We have full faith and confidence in the investigation," he said. "We have cooperated in every way that we have been asked."
Asked if speculation has hurt the volunteer search effort, Francom said the community continues to rally around the family.
"I know they [the searchers] don't put any credibility in that. I know we as a family don't," he said. "We know it's police procedure."
The newspaper report followed a day of intense hunting for a 26-year-old transient who police said might have information about the teen's disappearance. Bret Michael Edmunds was identified through a partial license plate number provided by a milkman who had seen a car in the neighborhood June 3, two days before the kidnapping.
A statement signed by Ed Smart said the family had looked at Edmunds' photograph and did not recognize him.
Elizabeth's 9-year-old sister, Mary Katherine Smart, described the kidnapper as a 5-foot-8-inch man. Edmunds is 6-feet 2-inches tall and 235 pounds.
"We don't think he's a suspect at this point," police spokesman Fred Louis said Wednesday.
Edmunds was being sought for parole violation and assault on a police officer. He had served 60 days and been put on probation in 2000 for stealing and forging checks.
Since Elizabeth's disappearance, thousands of volunteer searchers have combed through the city and surrounding mountains for any trace of the girl. Thousands of posters of Elizabeth are plastered throughout the Salt Lake valley and beyond.
Police have not been part of the extensive search. Their official search ended shortly after the kidnapping.