LITTLEFIELD, Texas – Authorities followed the trail of a car thief in two states on Friday, thinking it would lead them a step closer to finding out more about a missing 14-year-old girl abducted from her bedroom in Salt Lake City.
Instead, the daylong search ended in disappointment.
"It's terrible," said Randall Harris, a district attorney in New Mexico. "I'm going to go home and hug my kids. It's been a long day."
The search bounced between eastern New Mexico and West Texas as authorities sought the driver of a series of stolen vehicles, who was identified by two people as matching a description of Bret Michael Edmunds. That's the man wanted by Utah authorities for questioning in the disappearance of Elizabeth Smart. Authorities have said Edmunds is not a suspect in that case.
At the end of the day, the driver turned out not to be Edmunds after all.
Instead, Texas Ranger Dusty McCord said Bryant Dwain Carlisle of Portland, Ore., a suspected car thief, was arrested in Littlefield.
"We can understand how the identities may have been mixed up," McCord said. "They look very similar."
Back in Clovis, N.M., Harris, district attorney for Curry and Roosevelt counties, got the bad news in his office Friday evening as he wait for word on developments.
"I'm heartbroken," Harris said. "My heart goes out to the Smart family."
The search began early Friday when Texas authorities said a man who stole a bottle of water from a convenience store in Hereford matched Edmunds' description.
Hereford police said an abandoned vehicle with Colorado plates and linked to Edmunds was found in the Texas town early Friday. Less than two hours later, a Mitsubishi SUV was reported stolen from the area.
"Sometime in between that, a store clerk said a man came into her store and tried to purchase a bottle of water, but for some reason the transaction didn't go through so he just stole the bottle," Hereford Police Capt. Pat Michaels said.
The clerk gave a description that matched Edmunds.
"We've all been on alert to be watching, so when she gave the description and it matched, the officer took a longshot and showed her a picture," Michaels said. "She said she felt pretty sure that's him."
Hours later, a New Mexico farmer was the second person who spotted the man and told authorities he looked like Edmunds. The man was hiding and ducking near the Mitsubishi in a field near County Road 6 south of Texico, N.M., Harris said.
"It appeared the driver was attempting to hide. He (the farmer) called local law enforcement and that's what triggered this whole thing," Harris said.
After abandoning the Mitsubishi, the man stole a white Suzuki Swift in Curry County. That vehicle was found late Friday afternoon in the Texas town of Sudan, about 50 miles northwest of Lubbock, said Tim Reid, FBI special agent in Amarillo.
And then the break came in Littlefield, where Carlisle was arrested on suspicion of trying to steal a pair of shorts from a department store after buying other clothing, Police Lt. Leo Ponce said.
Elizabeth Smart was taken June 5 from her Utah home. Her 9-year-old sister, Mary Katherine, described the kidnapper as a 5-foot-8 man. Edmunds is 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds.
"We don't think he's a suspect at this point," police spokesman Fred Louis said Wednesday of Edmunds.
There has been an intense search for Edmunds, who 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.
Edmunds also was spotted by witnesses at a candlelight vigil for Elizabeth Smart in the city's Liberty Park, police said. Police approached Edmunds at the Sunday night vigil, but he fled in his car.
Edmunds was being sought for outstanding warrants on fraud charges and assault on a police officer. He had served 60 days and been put on probation in 2000 for stealing and forging checks.