SALT LAKE CITY – Elizabeth Smart's neighborhood was jammed with cars and well-wishers Wednesday evening who lined the street with balloons and blue ribbons to celebrate the missing teen's return.
"How can I even talk? This is such a miracle," neighbor Lynne Godfrey said. "When I heard it, I thought it was a prank. I had given up hope -- I mean, where would she have been? Who would have taken care of her for a year?"
Police found Elizabeth, the 15-year-old who vanished from her bedroom last June, alive Wednesday in the Salt Lake City suburb of Sandy. She was with a homeless drifter who was taken into custody.
Elizabeth's disappearance sent a chill through the affluent neighborhood overlooking Salt Lake City. Friends and neighbors spent Wednesday filling dozens of helium balloons and tying ribbons to trees and lamp posts. Some people carried signs with messages such as, "Welcome Back Elizabeth."
"I'm just reflecting on this happy ending," said Gregg Macey, the father of one of Elizabeth's schoolmate. "I don't even care about the details. They will come out. The end result is she's alive and safe."
The celebration gathered momentum as the day continued, with members of the Smart family's Mormon church gathering to hug and express relief. Many had spent the previous nine months praying, searching the nearby deserts and looking for clues to the girl's disappearance.
"This whole neighborhood has been riddled with fear and terror and anticipation," Bruce Poulsen said. "Lots of families were fearful and now they are relieved."
When David Hamblin, the local Mormon bishop, got off a one-hour flight from Denver to Salt Lake City Wednesday afternoon he had 18 messages on his cell phone.
"People were just crying into the phone," he said. "I'm so excited, just elated after all the hope, worry and doubt."