SALT LAKE CITY – A man says Elizabeth Smart and the couple being held in her disappearance stayed at his apartment a block from a police station for several days in October and the girl did not try to escape.
"I figured she could have called the cops if she wanted," Daniel Trotta, 24, told The Associated Press late Wednesday.
Trotta said he had befriended Brian Mitchell, the drifter taken into custody Wednesday after police found him with the missing girl. He invited Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee, to stay with him and his brother last October because it was turning cold and they had no home.
The Mitchells showed up with a girl they called their daughter. Trotta said he didn't recognize Elizabeth Smart, whose face was by then familiar on kidnap posters, newspapers and television. He said a veil always covered her face.
Months later, after viewing the television show America's Most Wanted, Trotta recognized Mitchell, who went by the name Emmanuel, and realized the girl with him most likely was Elizabeth Smart.
Trotta went to police and said they showed up Tuesday to take photographs and dust his apartment for fingerprints.
Police spokeswoman Peggy Faulkner said she couldn't immediately confirm Trotta's story.
Trotta said he was a cashier at Wild Oats Natural Marketplace where he met Mitchell and was taken by his religious convictions. Mitchell, his wife and Elizabeth wore white robes, and the women covered their faces with veils, he said.
"He was big into Jesus," Trotta said.
In his tiny apartment where they stayed at night, Smart said little, and when Trotta asked once for her name, Mitchell abruptly interrupted, telling her not to respond.
Turning to Trotta then, Mitchell said, "just call her my love and joy."
That seemed odd to Trotta, but it wasn't the only thing to raise his suspicion. Trotta also found it odd that Mitchell's stepchildren, shown on America's Most Wanted, were adults in their 30s. Elizabeth Smart was 14 at the time.
It all began to add up for Trotta, who made a call to police Sunday to report his suspicion, though he hadn't seen the Mitchell couple or the girl for months.
"We were shocked that she was here right under our nose," Trotta said.
Trotta said he never saw more than Elizabeth's eyes, eyebrows and blonde hair through her veil, but that she didn't seem in danger and expressed no fear of her captors. He said she had opportunities to escape the apartment or call police at night.
The girl and Barzee slept on a mattress on the floor, while Trotta, his brother and Brian Mitchell slept on the floor in the same room of the tiny studio apartment.
Trotta said he assumed that during the day, when the couple and girl left his apartment, "they were just wandering around town, asking for change."