The Smarts' persistence, even when Elizabeth's search was pushed off the frontpage, triggered the events that led to her recovery. Last month, the Smarts announced a new reward for information in the case and asked the public for help in their search for "Emmanuel," a former handyman who had worked for them.
They did not at the time know his full name, but they released a sketch of the man, saying Elizabeth's 9-year-old sister Mary Katherine — who witnessed the abduction — had just identified Emmanuel as bearing some resemblance to the kidnapper.
After the Smarts' press conference, Mitchell's sister called authorities with his identity and his stepson gave investigators photos and said his stepfather was "capable" of kidnapping a child. That led to Mitchell being featured on America's Most Wanted last weekend and the subsequent phone tips that led to his arrest.
Still, critics argue that wealth and media savvy should not determine which missing children cases get attention.
"I am happy and overjoyed that Elizabeth Smart has been recovered. This story defines how important it is for the national media to cover these types of stories and the importance of keeping hope alive," said Alonzo Washington, an independent comic book artist and Missouri activist who has championed the causes of lesser-known missing children.
"Danielle van Dam, Samantha Runnion and Elizabeth Smart received enormous amounts of national and international media attention and all of the children where recovered, two with tragic circumstances and one with positive results," he said.
"America's forgotten children [Precious Doe, Rilya Wilson, Teekah Lewis, Brittany Williams, Alexis Patterson, Jahi Turner, Diamond and Tionda Bradley] deserve national coverage and to be recovered as well," Washington continued. "African-American children are missing and the national media are not covering these stories. … I am extremely happy for the Smart family today. However, I am truly saddened that the national media does not value blacks' kids in the same manner."
Push for a National Amber Alert
Ed Smart acknowledged that not all parents of missing children have the means or opportunities to command the media spotlight he did, and has urged Congress to pass legislation for a nationwide Amber Alert system, which would alert communities to kidnappings within hours after they happen.
"Not everyone gets the media attention that we did," a tearful Smart said Wednesday night after his daughter was found. "Amber Alert cannot be held ransom [in Congress]. Bring it forward; there is no excuse. The Amber Alert needs to pass and it needs to pass now. We can't wait another day because there are hundreds of children kidnapped."
The Amber Alert system is named after Amber Hagerman, a little girl who was kidnapped while riding her bike around her Arlington,Texas, neighborhood in 1996. She was found dead four days later. There are 38 statewide Amber plans operating throughout the country. Back in October, President Bush announced his plan to put federal money and muscle behind Amber Alert systems across the nation. Bush announced that $10 million in federal money for training and equipment to be distributed to communities using the Emergency Alert System to inform residents of kidnappings.
Congress has since been considering nationwide Amber Alert legislation that would create a nationwide Amber Alert program. It passed in the Senate, but has failed to pass in the House.