Published January 13, 2015
After nine months of shabby living under bridges and in tents with a self-styled prophet and his wife, Elizabeth Smart returned to her million-dollar home alive -- but not unchanged.
When stopped by police, she readily lied about her identity and said the two drifters were her parents. The 15-year-old was nervous and agitated when asked to remove her sunglasses and gray wig and never asked about her family once the truth emerged.
"There is clearly a psychological impact that occurred at some point," Salt Lake Police Chief Rick Dinse said.
Dinse said the man accused of kidnapping Elizabeth from her home, Brian Mitchell, had been excommunicated from the Mormon church, the religion Elizabeth was raised in, and considered himself a polygamist. But Dinse added, "I do not want to attach his relationship with Elizabeth in that fashion."
Asked about reports that Elizabeth had been taken to be a wife, the girl's aunt, Angela Dumke, said Friday that the family couldn't be certain, but they wouldn't be surprised.
"You never know. He's nuts," said Dumke, a sister of Elizabeth's father, Ed Smart. "This guy's probably involved in polygamy."
Dumke said another theory is that Mitchell's wife, Wanda Barzee, considered Elizabeth to be her child.
Police on Thursday briefly outlined Elizabeth's movements, saying she was snatched from her bed at knifepoint on June 5 and spent her first two months with Brian Mitchell and Wanda Barzee achingly close to home. She was held in a tent in Dry Creek Canyon, a popular hiking area within two miles of the Smarts' house. The area was searched many times last summer.
Hours after she vanished, Elizabeth heard one of her uncles calling out her name but was unable to respond, her family said.
In October, Elizabeth and her captors rode a bus to San Diego and spent the winter there. They sometimes slept under a highway bridge. Mitchell was arrested twice during the time police say Elizabeth was with them, once in Salt Lake City on suspicion of shoplifting and once in San Diego for breaking into a church.
The trio returned to the Salt Lake area Wednesday in dirty clothes and carrying bedrolls. They were arrested within hours when two couples recognized Mitchell and called police.
When officers approached the teen, Sandy Officer Bill O'Neal said, "she kind of just blurted out, `I know who you think I am. You guys think I'm that Elizabeth Smart girl who ran away."'
Elizabeth told police her name was "Augustine" and that her cheap black sunglasses protected her eyes while they healed from surgery. When they asked why she wore a wig and T-shirt for a head scarf, she became upset.
"Her heart was beating so hard you could see it through her chest," O'Neal said.
Handcuffed and loaded into a separate police car from Mitchell and Barzee for the ride to the station, Elizabeth began to cry.
"We kept telling her, do this for your family, do this for yourself. Do the right thing -- we know you're Elizabeth Smart," said Sergeant Victor Quezada.
Elizabeth responded with a biblical quote, "Thou sayest."
The teen may have picked up the religious reference from Mitchell, a 49-year-old panhandler and self-proclaimed prophet for the homeless who called himself Emmanuel. The trio were seen wearing long white robes, with Barzee and Elizabeth often veiled and following silently.
Debbie Mitchell, Mitchell's ex-wife, told "Today" Friday that Elizabeth was likely manipulated psychologically.
"I think there must have been a lot of brainwashing to begin with. I know that's how he worked in our marriage, I know how controlling he was," she said.
Elizabeth's father credited his daughter's return to the power of prayer.
"Elizabeth is happy, she is well, and we are so happy to have her back in our arms," he said.
The city planned a community party Friday evening to celebrate her return.
Elizabeth seemed to adjust well on her first night home. Sierra Smart said she and several other cousins spent about three hours with Elizabeth. "She's like totally talking, totally casual," said Sierra, 22. "She got all new clothes. She gave a fashion show."
Elizabeth may have been kept from escaping or crying out for help by the growing influence of her captors, police said. Investigators have not talked to her since Wednesday evening and have no immediate plans to interview her again, Dinse said.
"That is subject to the information that we develop. We will work with her family about that," he said. "We did have a productive day yesterday. She's a very bright, very smart young lady who answered our questions very articulately. She was very helpful in our discussion with her."
Her father said he had not pressed his daughter for details of her ordeal.
"I don't have it in me to try and make this harder for her than it is," he said.
Mitchell and Barzee remain jailed Friday on suspicion of aggravated kidnapping.
Mitchell had been previously arrested in Salt Lake City, September 27, for allegedly shoplifting batteries, gum, a flashlight and beer, The Salt Lake Tribune reported Friday. The man, who told police his name was "Immanuel" and "Lueal," skipped a subsequent court appearance, the paper reported, citing court records.
Authorities in California disclosed Thursday that Mitchell had been arrested and held for six days in San Diego County last month for vandalizing a church.
A fingerprint check done after the arrest indicated he was also known as Mitchell, but deputies had no reason to keep him in custody, sheriff's spokesman Chris Saunders said. Mitchell pleaded guilty and was released on probation Feb. 18.
"There's really nothing different we could have done because Salt Lake City authorities didn't identify him as a suspect until March 1," Saunders said.
Ed Smart has criticized police for focusing too much on another possible suspect and failing to act quickly on a tip from Elizabeth's younger sister that ultimately led to Mitchell. But he also sounded forgiving.
"I believe that they tried to do their best," he said.
Dinse acknowledged investigators were slow to release a sketch of Mitchell.
"Hindsight is 20-20 vision," he said. "If we had to go back over it again, I think every one of (our investigators) would say, `I wish we had gone public with that ... earlier."