SALT LAKE CITY – The night Elizabeth Smart was taken from her bed, her 9-year old sister lay by her side and pretended to be asleep.
Mary Katherine Smart, now 10, was the only witness to the teen's abduction, and eventually was the one who provided the lead that led to her sister's safe recovery.
"If you want to talk about heroes in this story, Mary Katherine is our hero," Elizabeth's uncle Dave Smart said Wednesday, hours after the 15-year-old was found alive and healthy in a Salt Lake City suburb.
Mary Katherine told police that a gunman came into the sisters' bedroom on June 5 and told Elizabeth she might be hurt if she didn't keep quiet. The child said the gunman wore light-colored clothes and a white or tan hat.
In October, Mary Katherine remembered something else. She told her parents that a panhandler named Emmanuel, hired to do some work as a handyman at their house seven months before Elizabeth disappeared, bore some resemblance to the kidnapper.
"It is truly a miracle to me that she was able to come up with him," said the girls' father, Ed Smart.
Last month, investigators identified the panhandler as Brian David Mitchell. The information was included in a story on the television program America's Most Wanted.
Elizabeth was found Wednesday walking down a street with Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee, after police received calls from two couples who recognized Mitchell from television reports.
Police had chased more than 16,000 leads from the public, besides those they came up with themselves. But it was the revelation from Elizabeth's own sister that paved the way for Wednesday's happy ending.
Nine months after the night her sister disappeared, Mary Katherine and Elizabeth were reunited in their Salt Lake City home.
"Mary Katherine has (held) steadfast in what she knew, and what she didn't know and when she did remember she came forward with the courage to tell her parents that it might be Emmanuel," Dave Smart said. "For a 9-year-old girl to go through the trauma that she has gone through and has held fast to that ... it's extraordinary."