Utah police “sabotaged” efforts Elizabeth Smart’s family made to identify and locate Brian David Mitchell, the handyman ultimately convicted in Smart’s kidnapping, according to Smart family spokesperson and author Chris Thomas.
Smart, now 35, was abducted at age 14 from her Salt Lake City home by Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee, on June 5, 2002, and located alive 20 years ago Sunday, on March 12, 2003.
Smart’s younger sister, Mary Katherine, was in the same room as Smart when she was kidnapped.
“It was in October  – about four, four-and-a-half months after Elizabeth went missing. And a lot of people don’t realize: it was dark in the room that night when Elizabeth was abducted, and Mary Katherine did not get a good look at the individual, but she heard the voice, and it was familiar to her,” Thomas told “The Fox News Rundown Podcast.” “And while she was reading The Guinness Book of World Records [in October], all the sudden, she remembered, ‘Hey, it was that man Emmanuel, who worked on the roof one afternoon.’”
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Mitchell, who remains in prison, referred to himself as “Emmanuel” and helped the Smart family with odd jobs around their home.
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“There was a lot of tension,” Thomas recalled. “After Mary Katherine had that epiphany, the family, of course, immediately contacted law enforcement, and [police] were very reticent to come forward with that information.”
Sandy City police already had a person of interest at the time and were hesitant to change that narrative, Thomas explained on the podcast and in his new book. “Unexpected: The Backstory of Finding Elizabeth Smart and Growing Up in the Culture of an American Religion.”
“It wasn’t until February that [the Smart family] finally came out with the information, and then the police sabotaged it,” he said. “They told the media that I had concocted the story, and that they’d investigated the guy, and they didn’t think there was much there.”
Police were saying Thomas was “trying to get” Smart “back into the news,” he told the “Rundown.”
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Smart’s parents, Ed and Lois Smart, were struggling to hold on to hope as media interest in their daughter’s disappearance and the facts of her case waned. Ed Smart and Thomas traveled to New York City in 2002 to get interviews with national media, but John Walsh was the only person who seemed interested at the time, Thomas said.
Lois “had to let go,” Thomas recalled in an interview with FOX 13 Salt Lake City, “and really, at one point, she went up into the canyon and buried her badge with Elizabeth’s picture on it and said goodbye.”
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Meanwhile, Elizabeth was scheming ways to escape Mitchell’s captivity. Mitchell was a so-called “street preacher” who thought it was his destiny to marry child brides.
“We were in New York trying to do interviews that morning. No one wanted to do those. John Walsh was the only person that would take the story up.… Elizabeth, on the other side, was absolutely genius. She went to Brian David Mitchell and said, ‘Hey, I’ve had this revelation from God that we need to go back to Utah. There are lots of…young girls that go to these camps up in the mountains, and that’s where we’re going to get your next wife,’ and he took the bait and went back to Utah, and as soon as they stepped off the bus… a couple of ‘America’s Most Wanted’ viewers saw them, called them in, and Elizabeth was rescued.”
When Thomas heard from a detective at the Sandy City Police Department whom he knew from high school that Elizabeth was “alive and well” in March 2003, Thomas immediately asked: “Where’s the body?” because he could not believe the news.
He describes the crimes Elizabeth had to endure in captivity as “heinous” and “unthinkable.”
Now, Elizabeth is an advocate for other female victims of crime through her organization, The Elizabeth Smart Foundation, which aims to bring “hope” and end “the victimization and exploitation of sexual assault through education, healing and advocacy.”