The Family of Kidnapped Teen Elizabeth Smart Speaks in a 2003 PEOPLE Cover Story: Read It Here

"PEOPLE 50 Years of True Crime Stories" looks back on a half century of the best mysteries and mayhem

<p>George Frey/Getty</p> Elizabeth Smart was abducted at gunpoint from her Salt Lake City home June 5, 2002

George Frey/Getty

Elizabeth Smart was abducted at gunpoint from her Salt Lake City home June 5, 2002

People is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a look back at the best of a half century of true crime stories. In the summer of 2003, readers were riveted by the plight of Elizabeth Smart, a 14-year-old girl kidnapped at knifepoint in her bedroom at her family's house in Salt Lake City and held captive for nine months by Brian David Mitchell, a religious fanatic who claimed to be a prophet named Immanuel.

Following Elizabeth's safe return home after she was spotted wearing a disguise on a street in Sandy, Utah, several members of her family spoke to People for a March 31, 2003, cover story about her ordeal and recovering from trauma. Below, read "Elizabeth Smart: Her Amazing Story" in full, and pick up People 50 Years of True Crime Stories on  Amazon and on newsstands now.

The child who was lost but is now found stood before her family, modeling clothes. Just a day after Elizabeth Smart was returned to her home in Salt Lake City, her relatives threw a party to celebrate her 15th birthday, which came and went without her last Nov. 3.

Her toenails freshly painted hot pink, Elizabeth opened presents, mostly clothing to make up for the wardrobe that she had outgrown. “We had a fashion show,” says her aunt Julie Smart. “She came out in each new outfit, and we said, ‘Oh, you look so cute.’ She didn’t say much, but she glowed.”

<p>Tom Smart</p> Elizabeth Smart with her family, who never gave up looking for her until her return 9 months since her kidnapping

Tom Smart

Elizabeth Smart with her family, who never gave up looking for her until her return 9 months since her kidnapping

In quieter moments, however, her silence told another story. “It’s clear to me she’s been through major trauma,” says her aunt Cynthia Smart Owens. “There’s a lack of levity. She has a weight on her.”

Nine months after Smart was taken at knifepoint from her bedroom as she slept, she emerged as if from nowhere on a busy street in Sandy, Utah, on March 12, after four people recognized the man she was with: Brian David Mitchell, 49, profiled days earlier on America’s Most Wanted.

She was dirty and disguised and clearly under the spell of Mitchell, a religious fanatic who worked as a roofer at the Smarts’ home for a day in 2001 and who claimed to be a prophet named Immanuel. But she was alive and in good shape, which was a blessing.

President Bush took time out from his war plans to phone her elated parents, Ed and Lois Smart. “We always knew that if Elizabeth was alive it would be a miracle,” says her uncle Tom Smart. “But we always believed that the miracle was very, very possible. And sure enough, it was.”

Related: Elizabeth Smart Testifies About Her Abduction Ordeal in Horrifying Detail

On March 18 prosecutors charged Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee, 57, with aggravated kidnapping, burglary and sexual assault. They also charged that after abducting her, Mitchell forced Elizabeth to march four miles in her pajamas to a secluded campsite that had no plumbing and little shelter.

Threatening to kill her and her family, he kept her there until October. Often he hid her in a hole covered with boards or attached a cable to her leg and tied her to a tree.

What’s more, “she was raped,” Chris Thomas, spokesman for the Smart family, told People. The Smarts were particularly worried about prosecutors filing sexual abuse charges since they wished to shield Elizabeth from having to relive that aspect of her ordeal at trial.

“Their No. 1 concern right now is helping her get over this,” says America’s Most Wanted host John Walsh, who counsels the Smarts. “What she needs is to be with her family again, to establish some normalcy. ”

Lois and Ed Smart hug their daughter, Elizabeth, at the Smart home March 13, 2003 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Elizabeth was kidnapped at gunpoint last June and was traveling across the country with her captors.
Lois and Ed Smart hug their daughter, Elizabeth, at the Smart home March 13, 2003 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Elizabeth was kidnapped at gunpoint last June and was traveling across the country with her captors.

Sullen and distant when officers took her into custody, Elizabeth perked up when her father, Ed,
47, arrived at the Sandy police station. Officer Karen Jones recalls that Ed Smart “just stood there with an open mouth and wide eyes, and then it was just sobs.”

On her first night back at the Smarts’ $1.2 million house in Salt Lake City, Elizabeth watched her favorite movie, The Trouble With Angels, read scores of emails from well-wishers, met the family’s two new dogs, played her harp and slept alongside Mary Katherine, 10, in the same bed from which she was taken.

The next day local police blocked off the streets near the Smarts’ home for Elizabeth’s birthday party. The guest of honor did not attend but sent a message written on a large poster board that read, “I am the luckiest girl in the world!”

Few would dispute that. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, in most serious abductions the child is harmed or killed within the first three hours. “Statistics say this won’t happen, but statistics are not always right,” says Shirley Goins, the Center’s West Coast executive director. “This re- ally happened, and somebody came home.”


Losing her daughter was the last thing on Lois Smart’s mind when she met Brian David Mitchell on
a Salt Lake City street in November 2001. Preaching and panhandling, he found a charitable soul in Lois, who gave him $5 and offered him a day’s work fixing the roof of her house.

Lois and her husband, like many Mormons, often made such offers to people in need. Mitchell’s gentle demeanor, however, masked a twisted psyche. A twice-divorced father of four, he met Wanda Barzee, a down-on-her-luck divorcée who’d been hospitalized for a mental breakdown, at a group counseling session in the mid-’80s.

A student of Mormonism, Mitchell became convinced he was a prophet and with Barzee’s help tried to persuade others of his divinity. Barzee’s daughter LouRee Gayler, 27, who lived with them for three years starting when she was 12, alleges that Mitchell inappropriately kissed her and also claims he killed her pet rabbit Peaches and served it to her for dinner. “He said it was chicken,” she says. “The next day I realized my rabbit was gone.” 

<p>Salt Lake County Sheriff's Department/Getty</p> Brian David Mitchell

Salt Lake County Sheriff's Department/Getty

Brian David Mitchell

In the mid-’90s Mitchell and Barzee sold all their possessions and began living off the land. Spurred
by a vision that he should have seven wives, Mitchell apparently cut a hole in the kitchen screen in the Smarts’ home on June 5, 2002, and led Elizabeth into the Wasatch Mountains.

In the next two weeks some 850 searches for her were conducted, with helicopters, infrared cameras and bloodhounds. Elizabeth told relatives she heard her uncle David Francom calling her name during one search but was unable to respond, apparently because she was hidden in a dug-out shelter covered with boards—something that also would have prevented the infrared cameras from spotting her.

Her disappearance drew national attention, but even after the camera crews went away, the extended Smart family stayed strong and devoted countless hours to the cause. Ed, in particular, “had a strong sense all the way through that his daughter was alive,” says Cynthia Smart Owens. “He was a rock.”

Related: How Jayme Closs, Elizabeth Smart, Jaycee Dugard and Others Survived Headline-Making Abductions

Early on, police focused on the late Richard Albert Ricci, 48, a handyman who worked for the Smarts and had a long criminal record. But seven weeks after Elizabeth vanished, someone cut through a bedroom window screen in the home of Elizabeth’s cousin Jessica, now 18, and fled when a dog began barking (police have charged Mitchell with this attempted kidnapping).

“When I heard that, I thought they were trying to get a companion for Elizabeth,” says David Smart. “We were like, ‘No question, she’s alive.’ ”

Perhaps the real miracle came last October, when Mary Katherine told her parents she remembered who took Elizabeth—the worker she knew as Immanuel. When Ed Smart heard what his daughter had to say, “he choked up and immediately called the Salt Lake City PD,” says David. “He said, ‘I worked with this guy on the roof.’”

The police sketch was released Feb. 3, 2003, after which Mitchell’s sister came forward with photos that were then featured in a February episode of America’s Most Wanted. On March 1, another episode included new photos of Mitchell.

<p>Salt Lake County Sheriff's Department/Getty</p> Wanda Barzee

Salt Lake County Sheriff's Department/Getty

Wanda Barzee

On March 12, two separate couples who had seen that show spotted Mitchell walking on State Street and called 911. Four police officers arrived at the scene and spoke with Elizabeth, who was wearing sunglasses and a gray wig beneath a white T-shirt wrapped around her head.

She said her name was Augustine Marshall and stuck to that story even after the officers separated her from Mitchell and Barzee. Following regulations, Officer Karen Jones handcuffed her, and Sgt. Victor Quezada asked one last time, “Are you Elizabeth?” Her response: “Thou sayest.”

On the way to the police station, Elizabeth began to cry and asked, “What’s going to happen to them [Mitchell and Barzee]? Are they going to be okay?”

<p>Presley Ann/WireImage</p> Elizabeth Smart married her husband Matthew Gilmour in 2012

Presley Ann/WireImage

Elizabeth Smart married her husband Matthew Gilmour in 2012

Experts say she will likely require lengthy counseling to overcome the lingering influence of her abductors.

For now, her relatives believe, it is far more important to surround her with love and to provide those simple pleasures that were snatched from her nine months ago: the bubble baths she adores, the favorite candy Mary Katherine rushed out to buy her, the Christmas tree friends and cousins decorated with miniature harps in her honor.

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On the day after Elizabeth’s rescue, a family friend came over to cut her hair, which had been tightly braided by her captors. As her long blonde locks were trimmed to her shoulders and given a playful flip, “we all just sat there and watched,” says David Smart. “It was so refreshing to see the real-live face and not a picture.”

Telling the story makes David cry. “She has changed,” he says, “but she is still our angel.”

Elizabeth Smart has spent the years since her rescue sharing about her incredible journey of becoming an inspirational writer and mother. She has publicly spoken her experience to help other survivors and making sure her children know her story. In 2011, she founded the Elizabeth Smart Foundation (now part of the Malouf Foundation) to combat sexual violence. Now a mother of 3, she married Matthew Gilmour in 2012, before publishing her books My Story in 2013 and Where There’s Hope in 2018.

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