Elizabeth Smart, the Salt Lake City teen kidnapped at gunpoint from her bedroom nine months ago, was found alive today with a drifter who once worked for her family as a handyman.
The drifter and another person were in custody.
After reuniting with his daughter, a joyous and tearful Ed Smart, was grateful for all the prayers and help people lent in the search for his daughter.
"All of the children out there deserve to come back to their parents the way Elizabeth has come back to us," he said. "It is nothing but a miracle. I just held her, held her the whole way home. … I had to take a double-take and pull her back away from her and say, 'Is it really you? ’
Elizabeth, 15, was found in Sandy, Utah — just about 15 miles from her home — with drifter Brian David Mitchell and a woman identified as Wanda Eileen Barzee, police said. The girl's blond hair was concealed by a veil and a wig, police said.
"Words cannot express how incredibly grateful we are," said Elizabeth's uncle, David. "Do miracles still exist? Our answer is yes."
Salt Lake City police said Elizabeth did not appear to be physically harmed. She was reunited with her parents at Salt Lake City police headquarters.
"I think you can imagine what the reunion was like," said Salt Lake City police Chief Rick Dinse. "It was every bit what you could imagine. It was emotional. It was exciting. … it was a thrill for everybody. The parents were in tears."
The Smart family said Elizabeth was sharp and healthy. During her reunion with her parents, she asked questions about her siblings and was shocked to hear that her younger brother had earned straight A's on his last report card, according to family members who spoke to reporters tonight. They said police were amazed about the amount of information Elizabeth was giving them in their interview.
Mitchell — who considered himself a street prophet and called himself Emmanuel — and Barzee were in the custody of Salt Lake City Police. No charges had been filed. Barzee's connection to Mitchell was unclear. A motive for the kidnapping also remains unclear.
In Search of Emmanuel
Elizabeth, then 14, was kidnapped early June 5, 2002, by a gunman who apparently entered the the Smart house by cutting a window screen near the back door. She was taken from the bedroom she shared with her 9-year-old sister, Mary Katharine, who pretended to be asleep. The younger girl told authorities she heard the gunman threaten to hurt Elizabeth if the teen didn't keep quiet.
The Smart family had recently released sketches of Mitchell, 45, after Mary Katharine told them the man who took Elizabeth looked something like the former handyman.
At about 1 p.m., police in Sandy, about 15 miles south of Salt Lake City, received calls from two women, Nancy Montoya and Anita Dickerson who said they saw three people carrying bedrolls and bags walking down the street and that one of the people resembled Emmanuel. Officers went to the area and "located a male and two females at the side of the road. Sandy officers questioned the three and determined one of them was possibly Elizabeth Smart," Sandy police said in a statement.
Elizabeth and Barzee were wearing wigs and veils, according to witnesses.
All three were taken to the Sandy police station, where Elizabeth's identity was confirmed. Mitchell and Elizabeth had apparently spent some time out of state and only recently returned to Utah, sources told ABCNEWS.
A Joyous Day in Salt Lake City
Law enforcement officials and the Smart family's neighbors were amazed and overjoyed at the news of Elizabeth's recovery.
"What a great day it is for the city of Salt Lake," said FBI Agent Chip Burress. "There are law enforcement officials up there [in the police station] with wide grins on their faces. I cannot tell you how many cases we've had where the end outcome was not this."
In Elizabeth's neighborhood, new blue balloons — which once symbolized the ongoing search for the teen — were hung in trees and around homes to the celebrate her homecoming.
"You know, we've been waiting for this day for a long time," said neighbor Shelly Eugaphusa, who organized the balloon hanging. "We just wanted to celebrate. We're so happy for their family. … We never gave up."
Not Enough Attention to ‘Emmanuel’?
Elizabeth's kidnapping was one in a series of high-profile child abductions in the last year horrified the nation. Two California girls taken in separate incidents, Samantha Runnion and Danielle van Dam, were later found slain.
Last month, the Smarts announced a new reward for information in the case and asked the public for help in their search for "Emmanuel." They did not at the time know his full name, but they released a sketch of the man, saying Mary Katharine had just identified the former handyman as bearing some resemblance to Elizabeth's kidnapper.
After the Smarts' press conference, Mitchell's sister called authorities with his identity. The man's stepson, Mark Thompson, gave investigators photos of Mitchell and said his stepfather was "capable" of kidnapping a child.
The Smart family reportedly felt police had not devoted enough attention to finding Mitchell.
But Chief Dinse told a news conference this evening that police focused on finding Mitchell as soon as they learned about him.
"I am confident police devoted enough attention to Mr. Emmanuel," Dinse said. "We went out of state to try to find him."
Vindication for Once-Top Potential Suspect
Police at one time had focused on Richard Albert Ricci, another handyman who once worked in the Smart household. Ricci was considered a top potential suspect in the kidnapping, but he died Aug. 30 after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage while in jail on an unrelated parole violation. He had denied any involvement in the kidnapping, and his wife had publicly supported him.
Investigators said at one time they believe Ricci was involved but may not have acted alone. Today, with the discovery of Elizabeth, Dinse conceded that Ricci "may not have been involved at all."
Ricci's wife, Angela, was elated to hear about Elizabeth's recovery. She said that vindicated her husband.
"I jumped up and cried, said 'Yes!' " she told ABCNEWS affiliate KTVX. "I'm grateful that she's alive and I'll always stand by him and always will."