Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
The Elizabeth Smart kidnapping is back in the news, thanks to the release of another book, this time by the victim herself. “My Story” offers Elizabeth's account of the ordeal, as told to Chris Stewart. It paints a portrait of Elizabeth's life under the evil spell of Brian David Mitchell, who, when you cut through his pathetic, prophetic claims and galling hypocrisy, was nothing more than a sick, vicious pedophile who enslaved a 14-year-old girl.
“My Story” walks us through the filthy camps, the physical and mental abuse, the crazed delusions of Mitchell and his wife Wanda Barzee, the starvation, the travels and the hiding; it attempts to explain Elizabeth's strange timidity and compliance when a scream or a simple identification during her many public wanderings might have saved her much sooner.
The kidnapping is – can you believe it? – a decade behind us. What I remember most about that time is the way it galvanized the public and the kindnesses and grassroots search efforts it inspired. It is cruel irony that the stage for the crime was set with an act of kindness – Elizabeth's mother offered $5 to a homeless man, Mitchell; it ended with acts of kindness – strangers offering food and transportation and, finally, calling the police. In between, there were valley-wide searches by thousands of volunteers. I remember people on the street yelling, “They found Elizabeth Smart!”
“It took a village to bring a little girl home,” said Lee Benson, the Deseret News columnist.
Benson co-authored a book about the kidnapping with Elizabeth's uncle, Deseret News photographer Tom Smart, who was instrumental in finding Elizabeth. It is one of three books about the kidnapping and, in my estimation, it took two of them to tell the story. “In Plain Sight” tells the part of the story that Elizabeth couldn’t tell – the behind-the-scenes effort to find her. That is why I don’t understand why Ed and Lois Smart publicly discredited the book.
A disclaimer: Tom Smart and Benson are colleagues of mine, as well as my friends. I (and they) have nothing to gain by this because the fate of the book was sealed years ago when Lois and Ed publicly repudiated it. It killed sales of the book.
“We haven’t endorsed Tom’s book because (Elizabeth) hasn’t shared her story with anyone,” Ed told the Deseret News’ Pat Reavy in 2005. Ed went on to say that Elizabeth was “disheartened” by Tom’s book. He said there’s no way anyone could see Elizabeth’s ordeal in the same light as she did.
That wasn’t the intent of the book. “In Plain Sight” – based on hundreds of interviews and exhaustive research – told the story of how Elizabeth was found. It included the blundering efforts of the police, the rallying of the community, the courage of Tom Holbrook and FBI agent Mick Fennerty (and, if you read between the lines, the dogged persistence of her Uncle Tom), the role of the "America’s Most Wanted" TV show, the deceit of a pair of Salt Lake Tribune reporters – things Elizabeth had no knowledge of.
Lois opposed the book, telling Reavy that she wished the kidnapping of her daughter could be put behind them and Elizabeth could move on with her life and not be known simply as the girl who was kidnapped.
Yet Lois and Ed had written their own book about their daughter’s kidnapping, a made-for-Hallmark effort called “Bringing Elizabeth Home.” There was an authorized TV movie and a nationally televised interview with Oprah in the Smart home.
Now Elizabeth’s book has arrived at the bookstore a decade later.
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