The kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart occurred on 5 June 2002, when a 14-year-old American girl, Elizabeth Smart, was abducted from her Salt Lake City, Utah, bedroom.
Elizabeth, age 14
Ed and Lois Smart resided in the affluent neighbourhood of Federal Heights with their six children. On the evening of 4 June 2002, the family attended an award 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," Mrs Smart later explained.
While Elizabeth’s 9-year-old sister, Mary Katherine, pretended to be asleep she watched the abduction and later gave these details as to what she thought had happened:
- A white man about the height of her brother Charles, about 30 or 40 years old, wearing light-coloured clothes and a golf hat. (He was actually wearing black, did not have a golf hat and was 49.)
- He had dark hair, and also dark hair on his arms and on the back of his hands.
- The man threatened Elizabeth with a knife.
- When Elizabeth said "ouch" after stubbing her toe on a chair, Mitchell said something that sounded like: "You better be quiet, and I won't hurt you."
- She heard Elizabeth ask "Why are you doing this?" and though the answer was not clear, Mary Katherine thought the answer might have been "for ransom."
- Mitchell was soft-spoken — even polite, calm, and nicely dressed.
- Although Mitchell spoke to Elizabeth quietly, Mary Katherine thought Mitchell's voice seemed somehow familiar, but she couldn't pinpoint where or when she had heard it.
- She never got a good look at Mitchell's face. This fact was kept a secret by the police during the investigation.
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."
The parents found this hard to believe until Lois spotted a screen window downstairs that had been cut with a knife.
The next morning Ed went on television and asked the kidnapper to return his daughter. A massive regional search effort looked for Elizabeth in the days immediately following her abduction. Up to 2000 volunteers a day were dispatched to the area surrounding her home trying to find any trace of the missing girl. 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.
There was almost no significant forensic evidence, such as clear finger prints or DNA samples to help identify the abductor, which hindered 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.
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."
The Smarts sought to help unemployed people in the community by paying them for odd jobs or handy work around the property. 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 some five hours, helping on the roof and raking leaves.
Mary Katherine now thought "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 come out of a 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 to draw "Emmanuel's" face from memory. In February, this drawing was released to the media on the TV show ‘Larry King Live’ and other TV shows such as ‘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 12 March 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, about 18 miles from Elizabeth’s home, by an alert biker who had heard of the kidnapping on TV the night before, and alerted police. The companions were Elizabeth Smart—disguised in a grey 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.
Mitchell and Barzee were indicted for Elizabeth’s kidnapping, but initially ruled unfit to stand trial.
Barzee, in 2009, and Mitchell (then 57), in 2010, were eventually convicted.
Barzee is currently serving her 15-year sentence at the Federal Medical Center in Texas, which holds female inmates in need of special medical and mental health services; she is scheduled for release in 2016.
Mitchell was held in the Salt Lake County Jail following his sentencing on 25 May 2011. On 31 August, he was transferred to a federal prison to begin serving a life sentence for his crimes.