Dad Says Elizabeth Smart Was Brainwashed

ByABC News

March 13, 2003 -- Elizabeth Smart, the Salt Lake City teen kidnapped from her bedroom nine months ago, was brainwashed by the drifter and self-styled street preacher who is suspected of taking her, the girl's father said today.

The drifter, Brian David Mitchell, calls himself Emmanuel and believes he is on a level with God, police said.

Mitchell, 49, and his wife, Wanda Barzee, 57, were taken into custody on Wednesday when authorities found Elizabeth. Police said the investigation is still active and there may be more arrests of people who may have known who Elizabeth was but did not come forward.

Ed Smart, who relentlessly prodded police and the media to keep looking for his daughter, said today on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America that he believes Mitchell brainwashed his daughter to keep her from trying to leave him or contact police during the nine months he kept her with him.

"I can tell he did an absolute brainwashing on her," Smart said. "It's going to be difficult and it's going to be a long road but she's a strong girl and I know she's going to make it."

The Smarts had hired Mitchell to help them with work around their home, and at a news conference today, Ed Smart, who swung between tears, cries of joy and angry rants at Congress to pass federal Amber Alert legislation, recalled how he had worked beside the man he knew as Emmanuel.

"When I was up there on the roof with him I never could have guessed," he said. "He was so quiet. He was so soft-spoken. I could never have imagined such an animal was inside him."

In a press conference this evening, Salt Lake City Police Chief Rick Dinse would only say that Elizabeth's captors had "psychologically-impacted" her, but he would not further elaborate.

Hidden Practically in the Family's Backyard

Elizabeth, now 15, spent Wednesday night in the arms of her sister, 10-year-old Mary Katherine, who was the sole witness to the kidnapping and was the one who first put police onto the trail of Mitchell, Smart said.

"Elizabeth is happy. She's well," he said. "She's home."

As relatives visited with Elizabeth, President Bush called the Smart family to express the nation's joy over her rescue.

The girl told her family that she spent the first three months with Mitchell and his wife hiding in the mountains behind the Smart family home, even as hundreds of searchers scoured the area calling her name, her father said.

"She absolutely heard people calling for her," Smart said.

"She said she spent months right up here in the mountains, through August," the father said. "I can't believe it."

Police said that through interviews with Elizabeth, they believed her captors held her against her will at the mountain campsite and made her wear a wig, a full robe and veil.

Elizabeth, Mitchell and Barzee then lived in a Salt Lake City apartment that is only two blocks away from a police station. In October, they traveled to California, where police believe they moved from camp site to camp site in San Diego. Between October and Elizabeth's recovery, police believe the trio may have traveled through California and Nevada before returning to Utah at around 3 a.m. Wednesday.

Police said they are still exploring a number a leads and were investigating information that Elizabeth was also taken to Florida and Georgia.

Unanswered Questions

Despite the family's joy surrounding Elizabeth's return, at this point there are still more questions than answers in the case. Among them: Was the police focus on another handyman, Richard Albert Ricci, ill-founded; what did Elizabeth go through in the nine months she was missing; where was she during that time; and why didn't she flee?

Ed Smart said that he has not pressed his daughter to talk about what she went through, though she has talked to police about it and likely will be questioned again.

"I really haven't gone into it with her," he said. "I'm sure when the time comes, it will come out."

Responding to reports over whether Mitchell had taken Elizabeth to be his wife, police chief Dinse would only say, "His religious belief was in polygamy." Dinse did not want to

characterize Elizabeth's relationship with Mitchell further and said authorities continued to investigate.

Missed Opportunity in San Diego

Still, there may have been a missed opportunity to previously rescue Elizabeth. Officials at the San Diego Sheriff's Department told ABCNEWS they arrested Mitchell on Feb. 12 for vandalizing a church and that he was in custody for six days. He pleaded guilty to the charge and was released.

At the time, officials said, Mitchell was not using the Emmanuel alias and was using another name. They said they were unaware that he was wanted for questioning.

However, two days before Mitchell's arrest in San Diego the Smart family released sketches of "Emmanuel" and appealed for the public's help in finding him. They did not know the suspect's full name at the time but said Mary Katherine told them Elizabeth's kidnapper looked something like the former handyman.

Mary Katherine told her family about the Emmanuel connection back in October. Salt Lake City police said the family first told them about Emmanuel on Oct. 13 and then interviewed Mary Katherine two days later. Between October and early February, half of the investigators were devoted to following unexplained questions regarding the late Richard Ricci and searching for Emmanuel.

Three different composite sketches were made of Mitchell, Dinse said. The Smart family wanted to go public with one of the sketches early on, but the task force was against that idea because they did not feel feel like they had an accurate composite and did not want to generate an influx of futile leads.

On Feb. 10, investigators gave their blessing to the release of a sketch. That public showing of led to Mitchell's sister calling authorities with his identity, the man's stepson providing investigators with photos and ultimately led to Elizabeth's rescue, police said. Salt Lake City police conceded they may have made some mistakes.

"In hindsight, it's 20/20 vision," Dinse said. "If we had to go back over it again that decision by the investigators. I think every and each one of them would say I wish we had gone public with that photograph sooner."

Dinse said Salt Lake police did not issue a multi-state bulletin for Mitchell because he did not have a violent criminal background and they did not have enough evidence to consider him a suspect. Regarding Ricci, who died Aug. 30 after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage while in jail on an unrelated parole violation, Dinse said he now believes he was not involved in Elizabeth's kidnapping.

No Hard Feelings From the Smarts

There were reports that the Smart family felt police had not devoted enough attention to finding Mitchell, but today Ed Smart was too happy to really criticize anyone.

"I believe that some mistakes were made, but I know that they were trying," he said. "We've got Elizabeth back, and that's the important thing."

Mitchell and Barzee were booked into the Salt Lake County Jail for investigation of aggravated kidnapping, which carries a sentence of up to life in prison. Mitchell was also being held on an outstanding warrant for retail theft. The motive for the alleged kidnapping also remains unclear.

Salt Lake County Assistant District Attorney Kent Morgan said there would be no formal charges filed until at least Monday. Federal prosecutors could also file charges if Elizabeth was taken out of Utah.

Veiled Identity

Elizabeth was found Wednesday in Sandy City, Utah — about 15 miles from her home — with Mitchell and Barzee, police said. Two women, Nancy Montoya and Anita Dickerson, called police separately after they and their husbands recognized Emmanuel from a sketch and photos they had seen on television. Elizabeth's blond hair was concealed by a veil and a wig, and she was wearing jeans and dirty clothes, police said.

Police called to the scene confronted the three. When police first questioned the group at the side of the road, Mitchell — who said his name was Peter Marshall — claimed Elizabeth was his daughter, and Elizabeth called the couple her parents, Sandy Police Officer Troy Rasmussen said.

"She only admitted right it at the last moment," said Sgt. Victor Quezada. "She was very nervous-looking, she wouldn't look at us directly. … We kept telling her, 'We know it's you, Elizabeth. Just let us know who you are. You're safe now.' Then she said to us, 'Thou sayeth. I'll say it,' which took me aback because I didn't expect to hear that."

Salt Lake City police ultimately confirmed her identity.

Glimpse of a Life on the Run

Elizabeth, then 14, was kidnapped early June 5, 2002, by a man 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 Mary Katherine, then 9, who pretended to be asleep. The younger girl told authorities she heard the man threaten to hurt Elizabeth if the teen didn't keep quiet. Mary Katherine also said she thought the intruder had a gun.

A videotape acquired by ABCNEWS gives a disturbing glimpse of the life Elizabeth might have been forced to lead since she was taken from her family.

The video, shot by a local photographer, shows a bearded man in white robes with two females who not only wear white robes, but have their heads covered and their faces hidden behind veils.

The photographer, Nanda Sookhai, said he shot the video because the people seemed so out of place in a Salt Lake City park.

"They were quite outstanding in their dress, that they were all white, the outfit that is," Sookhai said today on Good Morning America. "They were just these three people sitting there by themselves, you know, at a picnic table, doing nothing. It just looks like they were relaxing, really."

A young man who let the trio stay in his apartment for four days in October to get out of the cold said Mitchell told him Elizabeth, whose face was hidden by a veil, was his daughter.

"I had never met her previously when I first met him, but when I asked her name, he interrupted her really quick and got nervous and said don't tell him your name," Daniel Trotta said today on Good Morning America. "He's like, call her 'my love' or 'my joy,' something like that."

Trotta said he went to police on Sunday, after seeing Mitchell's photograph in an America's Most Wanted television program segment on the Elizabeth Smart case.

A veiled Elizabeth and her alleged captors were also photographed at a party where Mitchell reportedly used drugs. ABCNEWS' Bill Redeker contributed to this report.

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