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Trying for normal

Family takes a break as questions remain

Published: Thursday, July 30 2015 8:18 a.m. MDT

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After three days of news conferences and public celebrations, Elizabeth Smart and her family simply spent time with each other Saturday. They avoided the public eye —and the persistent stream of questions and wonderings stemming from the 15-year-old's nine-month kidnapping odyssey.
Elizabeth's best friend returned from a trip to California on Friday night and saw Elizabeth for the first time, Smart family spokesman Chris Thomas said. The two had a "great time" just doing what normal teenage girls do, he said.
Overall, Thomas said, Elizabeth is doing "remarkably well" considering what she's been through. He admitted, however, that "things aren't perfect." When asked to elaborate, Thomas said there are times Elizabeth seems a little distracted. But if you had no idea who Elizabeth was or that she had been a captive for three-quarters of a year, you wouldn't have a clue anything was wrong, he said.
At week's end, Thomas and others near the case and experts observing it tried to clear up some of the rumors and questions that have been circulating since Elizabeth was found Wednesday afternoon:

QuestionWas Elizabeth "married" to Brian David Mitchell, her alleged kidnapper?

Answer — Asked if some sort of ceremony was performed in the foothills above her Federal Heights home on the night Mitchell is alleged to have abducted her, Thomas said, "Elizabeth did what she needed to do to survive. Had she been resistant, this case may not have had a positive out come."

QuestionCould she be pregnant?

Answer — "She is unequivocally not pregnant and never has been," Thomas emphasized, quashing a specific rumor.

QuestionHas Elizabeth changed?

Answer — Family members report that she is healthy, happy and glad to be home enjoying the little things she missed, such as movies, bubble baths and time with family and friends. The Smart family's LDS bishop, Dave Hamblin, told Newsweek's Elise Christenson that she has changed; she is a little more somber and she has matured a lot. (Newsweek's Web exclusive can be found at www.msnbc.com.)

QuestionWhy didn't she run away from her captors?

Answer — No one knows for sure. A combination of factors is most likely, behavior experts say. The child's fear, shyness, naivety and a passive nature mixed with constant efforts by the adult couple to brainwash her and give her a new identity could have blocked out thoughts of escape. An expert on cult behavior told the Deseret News this week that something much deeper was at work than the so-called Stockholm syndrome in which captives exhibit a bond and sympathy for their captors. Elizabeth was absorbing a new personality, he said, which might explain why she initially gave police a false name and claimed not to be the girl they were looking for. The expert said she will clearly have to be deprogrammed. Mitchell's family members also accused him of being a borderline pedophile. Such people, psychiatrists said, become experts in targeting victims and can be very skilled at ingratiating themselves to children and their parents.

QuestionWhen will her life be back to normal?

Answer — Things will never be the same, and normal is a long way off, said child therapists and even Patty Hearst, the wealthy heiress who herself was a world-famous kidnapping victim who seemed to go through a personality change during her captivity in the 1970s. Although her parents are giving her ample time to readjust and have kept her out of the media glare, the adjustment Elizabeth has had to make through the ordeal is already adjusting the rest of her life, Hearst said on CNN's "Larry King Live" last week. The incident will never be forgotten, said Hearst, who was kidnapped by the radical Symbionese Liberation Army. Local child therapists said how well the Utah teen deals with that new fact of life depends on family and community support, good counseling and largely her own resolve.

QuestionWas polygamy the motivation for Elizabeth's kidnapping?

Answer — While in jail Friday, Mitchell's wife, Wanda Ilene Barzee, told a friend that the couple had received a revelation on Thanksgiving Day 2000 instructing them to take seven young women as polygamous wives. Elizabeth was the first selection, Barzee said. Also, according to a 27-page manifesto written several years ago but obtain by the Associated Press last week, Mitchell called upon his wife to take as many as 49 or "seven times, seven sisters to love and care for." The instruction to his wife appears to be the foundation of a religious sect he claims to have started in 1997.

QuestionWhere have Elizabeth and her alleged captors been for nine months?

Answer — For two months after the June 5 kidnapping, they are believed to have been in Dry Canyon — just above the Smart home in Salt Lake's foothills. Elizabeth has even told her family that she heard searchers, including an uncle, hunting for her. Subsequently they were seen in the city itself and stayed in an apartment with a young man who befriended them. By October, the trio is believed to have taken a bus to the San Diego area. On Feb. 12, Mitchell was arrested by the San Diego County Sheriff's Office after being accused of trying to break into a church in an apparent attempt to find a place to sleep. Mitchell was released after several days in jail.
The three apparently headed back to Utah by bus this past week. Three people questioned by police outside a Burger King in North Las Vegas are believed by authorities to have been Mitchell, Barzee and Elizabeth Smart, the Associated Press reported Saturday. North Las Vegas police said the trio gave their names as Peter Marshall, Juliet Marshall and Augustine Marshall. They were questioned Tuesday but not arrested.
By early Wednesday, they were in Utah. At 11:30 a.m., they boarded a UTA bus in Orem. At 1 p.m., they were seen by passers-by in Sandy, who notified police, and Elizabeth's identity was verified. (More extensive details of their wanderings can be found in Saturday's editions of the Deseret News.)

QuestionWill the couple alleged to have committed the kidnapping be found competent to stand trial?

Answer — Mental illness and competency are legally far from being the same, experts said. In fact, the presence of mental illness does not automatically preclude competency to stand trial, and as mental health providers noted, most people who have a mental illness are competent in daily life. (See related story beginning on A1.)
Experts familiar with Mitchell, 49, and Barzee, 57, have said each likely suffers from varying forms of mental illness, including delusions and possible schizophrenia. Barzee has reportedly been hospitalized for mental illness at least once, and Mitchell expressed no interest in getting treatment whenever he was approached by Salt Lake homeless advocates.

QuestionWhy did the Smart family hire Mitchell as a handyman?

Answer — Compassion. The family was reaching out to someone in need of work and money, Ed Smart said this past week. Although he was a homeless street preacher given to long and loud discourse, Mitchell was most often mild-mannered and was so the day in November 2001 he was invited to the household to fix a roofing problem.

QuestionWhat about the reward?

Answer — Four rewards totaling $308,000 were offered during the past nine months in the Elizabeth Smart case. How and when the rewards could be disbursed is undecided. The two couples most likely to receive them say they could use the money, but they'd rather everyone stay focused for now on the girl's safe return.

QuestionWas Elizabeth's cousin next on a kidnapper's list?

Answer — Salt Lake County sheriff's investigators believe Mitchell planned to kidnap Elizabeth's cousin, Jessica Wright, during a July 24 break-in at the Wrights' house near 6900 South and 2700 West. The sheriff's office and the Salt Lake District Attorney's Office are screening an attempted kidnapping charge against Mitchell, which could be filed as early as Monday. Following the attempted break-in, deputies found a screen in a window of Wright's bedroom cut vertically and horizontally, according to a police report. Wright, now 18, said she heard pictures on top of her desk fall onto the floor about 3 a.m. and awoke to find "a thin object sticking through the metal blinds," the report says.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth was interviewed again by Salt Lake police Friday, and more interviews may follow. But Thomas said details of that interview are strictly confidential. In fact, Thomas said Ed and Lois Smart do not want anything "leaked" because they don't want her to face the same scrutiny they did during the first weeks following the kidnapping.
On Saturday, Ed and Lois Smart issued a joint letter along with Salt Lake Police Chief Rick Dinse and FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Chip Burrus thanking the citizens of Utah for helping to find Elizabeth.
"The citizens of Utah showed the world the true meaning of 'community support,' " the letter stated.
For Thomas, who has been a principal Smart family spokesman almost from day one, he said it's "surreal" and "unbelievable" that he finally gets to meet the young woman he's worked so closely with the Smart family to help find.
Thomas, who has been an extremely busy man of late, said between Wednesday and Friday he received 3,000 calls on just his cell phone from media organizations before he stopped counting.
Meanwhile, Mitchell and Barzee, the two accused of kidnapping Elizabeth, remain in the Salt Lake County Jail awaiting formal charges.


E-MAIL: preavy@desnews.com; jthalman@desnews.com

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