Elizabeth Smart kidnapping

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Kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart
Elizabeth Smart Speaks About Overcoming Trauma.jpg
Smart in June 2012 speaking to local media outlets in Moberly, Missouri

Federal Heights
Salt Lake City, Utah

Salt Lake City, Utah and
San Diego, California areas
DateJune 5, 2002 (2002-06-05) – March 12, 2003
Attack type
VictimElizabeth Smart
AssailantsBrian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee
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Kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart
Elizabeth Smart Speaks About Overcoming Trauma.jpg
Smart in June 2012 speaking to local media outlets in Moberly, Missouri

Federal Heights
Salt Lake City, Utah

Salt Lake City, Utah and
San Diego, California areas
DateJune 5, 2002 (2002-06-05) – March 12, 2003
Attack type
VictimElizabeth Smart
AssailantsBrian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee

Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her bedroom in Salt Lake City, Utah on June 5, 2002. She was 14 at the time. She was found alive nine months later on March 12, 2003, in Sandy, Utah, about 18 miles from her home, in the company of Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Ileen Barzee, who were indicted for her kidnapping, but initially ruled unfit to stand trial. Barzee, in 2009, and Mitchell (then 57), in 2010, were eventually convicted. He was held in the Salt Lake County Jail following his sentencing on May 25, 2011. On August 31, he was transferred to federal prison to begin serving a life sentence for his crimes. The abduction of Elizabeth and her recovery were widely reported and were the subject of a made-for-television movie and a published book.[1]


Edward and Lois Smart lived in the affluent neighborhood of Federal Heights in Salt Lake City, Utah, with their six children.[2] On the evening of June 4, 2002, the family attended an awards ceremony at Elizabeth's school. After the family returned home and got ready for bed, Ed made sure the doors were all locked, but he did not turn on the alarm. "If the children got up and moved [in the night], it would set the alarm off. And so we just said we're not going to bother with it," Lois later explained.[3]

In the early hours of the morning, Brian David Mitchell broke into the home and came to the bedroom that Elizabeth shared with her 9-year-old sister, Mary Katherine.[4] While Mary Katherine pretended to be asleep,[5] she watched the abduction,[6] and later gave these statements as to what happened:

By listening to the creaking floor as Elizabeth and Mitchell walked, Mary Katherine thought she could tell where Mitchell and Elizabeth were. So when it seemed safe, Mary Katherine hopped out of bed to tell her parents. But she froze in terror when she nearly ran into Mitchell and Elizabeth as they seemed to be looking into her brothers' bedroom.[15] Fearful that she had been spotted by the abductor, she crept back into her bed. "I thought, you know, be quiet, because if he hears you, he might take you too, and you're the only person who has seen this," Mary Katherine said in a later interview. "I was, like, shaking."[9] She hid for an undetermined amount of time. Investigators later concluded that she may have been hiding over two hours before she felt safe enough to come out.[16]

Just before 4 a.m., Mary Katherine came to her parents' bedroom and woke them up. She told them Elizabeth was gone, but her parents thought she was having a bad dream. Ed went from room to room, and didn't find her. Mary Katherine told him, "You're not going to find her. A man came and took her. He had a knife."[17] Still, the parents found this hard to believe until Lois spotted a screen window downstairs that had been cut with a knife.[18]

The next day, Ed and Lois went on television and asked the kidnapper to return their daughter.[19] A massive search for Elizabeth began.[10]

According to Smart's October 1, 2009, US Federal Court testimony, after Smart had gone to bed on June 4, 2002, a man Smart identified as Brian Mitchell had entered her bedroom and had "placed his hand on my chest and then put the knife up to my neck. He told me to get up quietly, and if I didn't then he would kill me and my family. He was whispering, but it was still loud enough it could wake someone. He was dressed in sweats, sweatshirt, stocking cap, tennis shoes." After Smart had been led to Mitchell's camp in the woods, a woman Smart identified as Wanda Barzee "eventually just proceeded to wash my feet and told me to change out of my pajamas into a robe type of garment. And when I refused, she said if I didn't, she would have Brian Mitchell come rip my pajamas off. I put the robe on. He came and performed a ceremony, which was to marry me to him. After that, he proceeded to rape me."[20]

It was later revealed during court testimony that Mitchell repeatedly raped Smart, sometimes multiple times daily and forced her to watch pornographic films.[21] He often forced her to drink alcohol to lower her resistance.

Search and investigation[edit]

A massive regional search effort, organized by the Laura Recovery Center, looked for Elizabeth in the days immediately following her abduction. Up to 2,000 volunteers a day were dispatched to the area surrounding her home trying to find any trace of the missing girl.[22] Word spread quickly as an impromptu coalition of websites facilitated the distribution of information about Elizabeth Smart with flyers that could be downloaded for printing or immediately circulated online by email or Internet fax. Volunteers combed the hills near her family's home and extended the search using search dogs and aircraft. After many days of intensive searching, the community-led search was closed by the local volunteers and efforts were directed to other means of finding Elizabeth.

Although police had an eyewitness, Mary Katherine's report was not very helpful to investigators. Furthermore, there was almost no significant forensic evidence such as clear fingerprints or DNA samples to help identify the abductor, hindering the investigation. A search using bloodhound dogs was unsuccessful in following Mitchell and Elizabeth's path on foot. Police questioned and interviewed hundreds of potential suspects including one individual, Bret Michael Edmunds, a 26-year-old drifter who was pursued across the country but ultimately was cleared of suspicion in the case after being located in a West Virginia hospital suffering from a drug overdose. One by one, the leads that were pursued often put at-large criminals back in prison, but they did not produce the desired result of finding Elizabeth.[citation needed]

Ultimately, the Salt Lake City police signaled that their prime person of interest was Richard Ricci, being held in custody for unrelated reasons. Ricci, a handyman hired by the Smarts, was on parole for a 1983 attempted murder of police officer Mike Hill. He was charged with felony burglaries of homes in the area similar in circumstances to the break-in at the Smarts. Ricci later died in jail from a brain hemorrhage a few weeks after he refused to provide a confession to Utah corrections officers.[23] With his death, it seemed that all leads were exhausted. Upon discovery of the actual kidnappers, Ricci's widow issued a statement expressing relief at Smart's safe return and her husband's innocence.

The Smarts and their extended family persistently maintained a presence in the local and national media, in order to keep Elizabeth's name in the press, providing the media with home videos of her as a teenager and as a child, and created a website to serve as a resource center.

After several months, a breakthrough came in October 2002, when Mary Katherine suddenly remembered where she had heard Mitchell's voice, telling her parents, "I think I know who it is: Emmanuel."[24]

The Smarts sought to help unemployed people in the community by paying them for odd jobs or handy work around the property.[25] Mitchell, who called himself "Emmanuel", had been the one who informed many homeless people that the Smarts would hire them and also worked for them himself one day. He worked at the Smarts' home for five hours, helping on the roof and raking leaves.[26][27][28] He was clean, soft-spoken, well-groomed, Caucasian, 5'8″ tall, with dark hair, and was "about 45 years old". It seemed clear that "Emmanuel" was not his real name, but had something to do with his self-proclaimed calling as a prophet of God and minister to the homeless. Lois and some of the children had met him downtown as he was asking for spare change.[citation needed]

Mary Katherine now identified "Emmanuel"/Mitchell as the man who had abducted her sister. When this was reported to the police, they had doubts as to its reliability. Mary Katherine had barely heard the suspect's quiet voice and for only a few minutes, and had just awakened from sleep. When it was reported several months later that she thought it was the voice of a man she had only met briefly and more than a year before, the police did not consider it a worthy lead.

Tensions developed as the parents accused the police of not thoroughly following up on this lead. The family used the services of sketch artist Dalene Nielson[29] to draw "Emmanuel's" face from memory. In February, this drawing was released to the media, with the assistance of John Walsh, who revealed it in an appearance on Larry King Live and on his own series, America's Most Wanted. The drawing was recognized by Emmanuel's family, who reported his actual name, Brian David Mitchell, to the police and provided them with contemporary photographs of Mitchell.

On March 12, 2003, just over nine months after the abduction, Mitchell, who was now wanted by police for questioning, was spotted traveling with two companions in Sandy, Utah, by an alert biker who had heard of the kidnapping on America's Most Wanted the night before and alerted police. The companions were Elizabeth Smart—disguised in a gray wig, sunglasses, and veil — and Wanda Ileen Barzee. Smart was finally recognized by the officers during questioning, and was promptly reunited with her family. Mitchell and Barzee were taken into custody as suspected kidnappers.

Legal proceedings[edit]

Brian David Mitchell, (born October 18, 1953) and his wife Wanda Ileen Barzee were indicted by a Utah grand jury. Mitchell's trial on these charges was initially postponed following a court ruling that he was not mentally competent to stand trial.

For several months, Mitchell and Barzee were held on US$10 million bond awaiting the outcome of mental competency tests. Prosecutors said that Mitchell and Barzee kidnapped Elizabeth to be Mitchell's "second wife", held her against her will in the foothills near Arlington Hills until October 8, and then took her to California, where they stayed until March 5.

In January 2004, Barzee was found incompetent to stand trial on charges including kidnapping, sexual assault, and burglary. On July 26, 2005, Mitchell was also found incompetent to stand trial, facing the same charges. A district judge ordered him held until he was deemed fit for trial.[30]

In February 2006, a bill went before the Utah legislature to allow prosecutors to apply for forcible medication on defendants to restore their competence to face trial. Permission to forcibly medicate Wanda Barzee was also sought, relying upon the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Sell v. United States (2003), which permits compulsory medication when the state can demonstrate a compelling interest is served by restoring a person's competence and that medication would not harm the person or prevent him from defending himself. In June 2006, a Utah judge approved the forcible medication of Barzee so that she could stand trial.

On December 18, 2006, Mitchell was again declared unfit to stand trial in the Utah state courts after screaming at a judge during a hearing to, "forsake those robes and kneel in the dust." Doctors had been trying to treat Mitchell without drugs, but prosecutor Kent Morgan said after the scene in court that a request was likely to be made for permission to forcibly administer drugs.

On December 12, 2008, it was reported that Mitchell could not legally be forcibly medicated by the State of Utah to attempt to restore his mental competency, also claiming that it is "unnecessary and needlessly harsh," and therefore a violation of the Utah state constitution, to prolong trial proceedings to this length.[31]

In early October 2009, a third competency trial for Mitchell was underway, with Elizabeth Smart testifying. As Mitchell's third competency hearing moved forward, both Mitchell and Barzee remained incarcerated at Utah State Hospital (a psychiatric hospital), where Barzee was still being medicated until she was competent to stand trial.[32]

Most recently, the U.S. Attorney's Office retained Dr. Michael Welner, a noted forensic psychiatrist and the chairman of The Forensic Panel in New York City, to address questions related to Mitchell's competency to stand trial.[33] The report written by Dr. Welner, which exceeded 200 pages in length, had provoked objections from the defense as well as motions to exclude witnesses.[34]

On November 17, 2009, Wanda Barzee, the wife of Elizabeth Smart's captor, was sentenced to 15 years for her role in the kidnapping. Her husband, the captor, was still considered as unfit to stand trial.[35] However, on December 1, 2009, a psychiatric nurse who observed Brian David Mitchell stated she believed Mitchell had faked psychiatric symptoms and behaviors to avoid prosecution and remain at a state hospital.[36]

Barzee is currently serving her 15-year sentence at the Federal Medical Center, Carswell in Texas, which holds female inmates in need of special medical and mental health services; she is scheduled for release in 2016.[37]

On July 26, 2005, Mitchell was initially declared incompetent to stand trial by Salt Lake City District Judge Judy Atherton, who ordered he be retained until competent to stand trial. Following additional hearings, Judge Dale A. Kimball of the U.S. Federal Court for the District of Utah, found Mitchell competent to stand trial on March 1, 2010, describing Mitchell as an "effectively misleading psychopath" who has manipulated people into thinking him incompetent.[38]

Mitchell's criminal trial on federal kidnapping charges began on November 8, 2010.[39]

During the trial both the prosecution and the defense accepted that Mitchell had kidnapped and assaulted Ms. Smart repeatedly but the defense claimed that he was insane at the time and therefore not guilty by reason of insanity. Many stipulations were presented and many lay witnesses were called covering Mitchell's alleged sanity and his alleged insanity. The defense relied most of all on the testimony of two mental health professionals, Paul Whitehead and Richard DeMier.[40][41]

Prosecutors presented many lay witnesses for rebuttal to the insanity defense. [42][43] Utah psychiatrist, Noel Gardner, testified that Mitchell is not delusional nor sincere in his religious beliefs and was only a pedophile. Michael Welner, who spent more than 1,600 hours working on a report on Mitchell and charged the U.S Attorney's Office nearly $750,000 for all his work, testified that Mitchell does not suffer from a mental illness, but rather pedophilia, anti-social personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder.[44]

The jury deliberated about five hours, rejected the insanity plea, and returned guilty verdicts on both counts early on December 10, 2010.

On May 25, 2011, Judge Dale A. Kimball sentenced Mitchell to two life sentences in prison.[45] Mitchell is currently serving his life sentence at the United States Penitentiary, Tucson, a high-security federal prison.[46]

Abduction timeline[edit]


Television interviews[edit]

In October 2003, Elizabeth Smart and her parents were interviewed for a special segment of Dateline NBC. The interview, conducted by the Today show's Katie Couric, featured Elizabeth's first interview with any media outlet. Couric questioned Elizabeth's parents about their experiences while Elizabeth was missing, including the Smarts' personal opinions concerning Elizabeth's captors. Couric then interviewed Elizabeth about school and her life following her kidnapping.

Shortly after the Dateline interview, Elizabeth Smart and her family were featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, where Winfrey questioned the Smarts about the kidnapping.

In July 2006, legal commentator and television personality Nancy Grace interviewed Elizabeth Smart, purportedly to talk about pending legislation on sex-offender registration, but repeatedly asked her for information about her experience. In response to the questioning, Elizabeth told Grace, "I really am here to support the bill and not to go into what -- you know, what happened to me." When Grace persisted, asking Elizabeth what it was like to see out of a burqa her abductors forced her to wear, Elizabeth stated: "I'm really not going to talk about this at this time ... and to be frankly honest I really don't appreciate you bringing all this up." Grace did not pursue further questioning about the abduction.

Book and film[edit]

The Smart family published a book, Bringing Elizabeth Home (ISBN 978-0385512145). Elizabeth's uncle Tom Smart co-authored a book with Deseret News journalist Lee Benson, titled In Plain Sight: The Startling Truth Behind the Elizabeth Smart Investigation (ISBN 978-1556526213), which criticized the investigation process by the Salt Lake City Police Department, as well as noting the media influences that led to her successful recovery.[49]


The kidnapping was depicted in the 2003 television film The Elizabeth Smart Story, which was directed by Bobby Roth, and based on the book Bringing Elizabeth Home. It starred Amber Marshall as Elizabeth Smart, Dylan Baker and Lindsay Frost as her parents, and Tom Everett as Brian David Mitchell.[50] It was nominated for a three Young Artist Awards in 2004. The film first aired on CBS on November 9, 2003, just eight months after Elizabeth was found.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Emiley Morgan (2011-08-31). "Elizabeth Smart kidnapper Brian David Mitchell leaves Utah for federal prison". Deseret News. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  2. ^ a b "S.L. girl taken from her home", Deseret News, June 5, 2002, Page A01
  3. ^ "Elizabeth's Road Home, March 12, 2003". CBS News. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  4. ^ "Kidnap theories expand", Deseret News, June 13, 2002, Page A01
  5. ^ "Details Emerge", Deseret News, June 19, 2002, Page A01
  6. ^ "Sister reported the abduction relatively quickly", Deseret News, June 16, 2002, Page A15
  7. ^ "Utah Girl, 15, Is Found Alive 9 Months After Kidnapping", The New York Times, March 16, 2003 Section A, Page 1, Column 3,
  8. ^ a b c "Police add details to data on abductor", Deseret News, June 18, 2002, Page B01
  9. ^ a b c "Sister Recounts How She Helped Find Elizabeth Smart". 2005-07-21. Retrieved 2007-02-10. 
  10. ^ a b c ""Elizabeth's Road Home", CBS News, March 12, 2003". February 4, 2003. Retrieved 2007-02-10. 
  11. ^ "Sister thought abductor was after a ransom", Deseret News, January 11, 2003, Page A01
  12. ^ "Kidnapper's voice sounded familiar, but the sister of Elizabeth Smart cannot identify it yet", Deseret News, August 2, 2002, Page B01
  13. ^ "Elizabeths Smart's Younger Sister Speaks Out Publicly". Retrieved 2007-02-10. 
  14. ^ "Sister of Elizabeth Smart is Prime Witness". CNN. February 7, 2001. Retrieved 2007-02-10. 
  15. ^ "Elizabeth's Road Home". CBS News. February 4, 2003. Retrieved 2007-02-10. 
  16. ^ "Sister's story: New details emerge", Deseret News, June 19, 2002, Page A01
  17. ^ "MSNBC, "Bringing Elizabeth Smart home"". Retrieved 2007-02-10. 
  18. ^ "Girl's family clings to hope", Deseret News, June 9, 2002 Page A01
  19. ^ Father pleads for kidnapped Utah girl CNN, June 6, 2002
  20. ^ Free, Cathy. "Elizabeth Smart Testifies About Her Abduction Ordeal in Horrifying Detail - Elizabeth Smart". People.com. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  21. ^ Free, Cathy. "Elizabeth Smart Testifies About Her Abduction Ordeal in Horrifying Detail - Elizabeth Smart". People.com. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  22. ^ Lisa Fletcher, Lindsay Goldwert (November 19, 2009). "Wanda Barzee Pleads Guilty in Smart Kidnapping". ABC News. Retrieved May 23, 2011. 
  23. ^ "Doctors Say Richard Ricci Is Unlikely to Regain Consciousness". Fox News. Associated Press. August 30, 2002. Retrieved May 23, 2011. 
  24. ^ "Smart's younger sister speaks publicly for first time". 
  25. ^ "The Miracle Girl", People Magazine, March 20, 2003 "Lois and her husband, like many Mormons, often made such offers to people in need."
  26. ^ CourtTV site with extensive information on the case from its inception
  27. ^ Mind Games audio report episode of This American Life (April 8, 2005) with a story about why people did not notice Elizabeth Smart on the street. Preserved in the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine.
  28. ^ The Making of Immanuel December 2003
  29. ^ 'GOD GIVEN' GIFT: Sketch artist finds her calling June 28, 2004
  30. ^ "Smart's accused kidnapper ruled incompetent". CNN. Retrieved 2007-02-10. 
  31. ^ "Defense wants state charges against Mitchell dismissed". 
  32. ^ Hunt, Stephen. "Motion denied to dismiss case against Mitchell", The Salt Lake Tribune, 2 October 2009.
  33. ^ "Mitchell to face 3rd competency hearing". 
  34. ^ "Mitchell attorneys want fewer witnesses". 
  35. ^ a b http://www.sltrib.com (2009-10-01). "Utah Local News - Salt Lake City News, Sports, Archive - The Salt Lake Tribune". Sltrib.com. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  36. ^ "Nurse: Suspect in Smart abduction faked symptoms". The Daily Herald. 2009. Retrieved 2009-12-02. 
  37. ^ "Federal Bureau of Prisons". Bop.gov. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  38. ^ a b "Mitchell ruled competent to stand trial in Elizabeth Smart abduction". Retrieved 2010-02-01. 
  39. ^ "Smart kidnapping trial to begin Monday". KSL-TV. October 31, 2010. 
  40. ^ "Smart storms out of courtroom during witness testimony". Retrieved October 12, 2013. 
  41. ^ "Mitchell suffers from bizarre delusions, doctor testifies". Retrieved October 12, 2013. 
  42. ^ "Witnesses recall Mitchell's cruel, disturbing behavior". KSL-TV. December 3, 2010. 
  43. ^ "U.S. Marshal testifies Mitchell's behavior different inside courtroom". KSL-TV. Retrieved October 12, 2013. 
  44. ^ "Prosecution in Brian David Mitchell trial close to finishing". KSL-TV. 
  45. ^ a b "Life in Prison for Kidnapper of Smart". The New York Times. Associated Press. May 25, 2011. Archived from the original on May 25, 2011. 
  46. ^ "Federal Bureau of Prisons". Bop.gov. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  47. ^ "Father says younger cousin of Elizabeth Smart target of alleged break-in". Retrieved 2008-10-02. 
  48. ^ Peralta, Eyder (May 25, 2011). "Former Street Preacher Sentenced To Life In Kidnapping Of Elizabeth Smart". npr.org. Retrieved October 12, 2013. 
  49. ^ Smart, Tom; benson, Lee (2005). In Plain Sight: The Startling Truth Behind the Elizabeth Smart Investigation. Chicago Review Press. ISBN 1-55652-579-6. 
  50. ^ "The Elizabeth Smart Story (2003) - Trailers, Reviews, Synopsis, Showtimes and Cast - AllMovie". Allrovi.com. 2003-11-09. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 

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