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Ten-year anniversary: 'Everything changed after Elizabeth,' law enforcement says of missing children cases

Tuesday marks 10 years since the Smart kidnapping

Published: Monday, June 4 2012 10:07 p.m. MDT

Norma Erekson and Elise Dumke confort each other during a press conference near the Smart family home in Federal Heights Wednesday, June 5, 2002 regarding the abduction of Elizabeth Smart early that morning. Erekson is a family friend and Dumke is a cousin of Elizabeth.

Jason Olson

Interactive Timeline: Elizabeth Smart Kidnapping — A look back

Find more stories about the Elizabeth Smart case at the end of this article.

SALT LAKE CITY — Ten years ago Tuesday was the start of what would become one of the most infamous crimes in Utah history.

During the early morning hours of June 5, 2002, a man cut the kitchen window screen of the Federal Heights home of Ed and Lois Smart, entered the house, went to an upstairs bedroom and abducted Elizabeth Smart from her bed as her terrified sister, 8-year-old Mary Katherine, feigned sleep.

Fast forward to today, and Elizabeth Smart is safe, married and living a happy life while her two abductors are in prison. While the criminal proceedings are over, the legacy of her case can still be seen today in the way law enforcement agencies in Utah — and across the nation — investigate missing and abducted children.

"Everything changed after Elizabeth Smart," said Paul Murphy, coordinator of the state's Amber Alert system.

"The department has changed dramatically (over the past 10 years)," added Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank.

Utah is now considered a leader in Amber Alert coordination and in how missing children cases are investigated. Since Elizabeth Smart's kidnapping, agencies across the country and even around the world have created more elaborate alerts and plans to help locate missing children.

"To see how far we've come, it makes me so happy," Elizabeth's father, Ed Smart, said Monday. "It makes me feel really good to think so many people have come together to make such a huge difference."

In the weeks that followed the kidnapping, both police and the public participated in massive search efforts for Elizabeth. It wasn't until nine months later when she and her kidnappers, Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee, were spotted walking down State Street in Sandy. All were dressed in robes and wigs.

Much of the nation was shocked to learn that Elizabeth Smart was still alive.

After lengthy court proceedings in both federal and state courts, Mitchell was eventually convicted in December of 2010 and was sentenced to life in prison. He is currently serving his time at the Tucson Federal Prison.

Barzee struck plea deals in both her state and federal cases. She is currently serving her sentence in a federal prison in Texas. She could get out as early as 2016 because of good behavior. When she is released, she will be transferred to the Utah State Prison to serve up to 15 years there.

Smart, 24, after serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was married in February to Matthew Gilmour in the LDS temple in Hawaii. The couple still lives in Utah. In addition to becoming a correspondent for ABC News, she also stays busy with numerous speaking engagements across the country as part of her Elizabeth Smart Foundation.

"Too many families experience the nightmare of having a child go missing. I know what it is like to be that child. I know what it is like to think that one false move may lead to not only your own death, but the death of family members as well," she wrote on her foundation's website. "Nobody can ever blame a child for their actions when they are being threatened, bullied, forced or coerced into doing something unthinkable. That is why the Elizabeth Smart Foundation was created, because what if we could prevent future crimes against children? Wouldn’t it be worth it to do everything to bring home that one child?"

Smart declined a request from the Deseret News for an interview.

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