Mary Katherine Smart was on her way to report her sister's abduction to her parents when the 9-year-old spotted the kidnapper in another part of the house and became frightened.
That second sighting sent Mary Katherine back to her bed and is the reason she waited roughly two hours before telling anyone her sister was gone, police said Wednesday morning.
This new explanation contradicts earlier reports that Elizabeth's kidnapper threatened Mary Katherine.
"The information that (police spokesman) had the very first morning was from the father; he said that," Salt Lake Police Capt. Scott Atkinson said. "The initial reports from the father that he thought the guy had spoken to Mary Katherine were not true."
Through four interviews, investigators have learned that the kidnapper apparently did not see Mary Katherine when he took Elizabeth at gunpoint from the room both girls shared between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. June 5.
Police Chief Rick Dinse also said Mary Katherine heard the kidnapper threaten Elizabeth while he was in the house.
Dinse appeared at a press conference Wednesday morning to clarify reports of what Mary Katherine saw and defend his department's previous refusal to clarify what transpired in the bedroom between Mary Katherine and the kidnapper.
"There is no conspiracy effort here to keep information from the media," Dinse said. "We are not telling you everything. . . . If you haven't figured that out by now, that's the truth."
Two weeks into the case, police are still revealing very little about their investigation, and Elizabeth's family remains optimistic she's still alive.
"I feel that she is alive, she's waiting to be found," Elizabeth's father, Edward Smart, said.
Dinse said Wednesday he still believed police would "eventually" resolve this case and "Mary Katherine's a big part of doing that."
Susanne Mitchell, director of the Children's Justice Center in Salt Lake City, said it's not unusual for children to recall more information about an incident over a period of time.
Because children don't understand the way a criminal investigation is conducted, details that may not seem significant to them may be brought up in later interviews, Mitchell said.
But in other cases, the interaction between a child and suspect is so brief that the child really doesn't have more to tell.
"It's hard to expect children to have a photographic memory and repaint the picture in great clarity," she said.
As of Wednesday, Dinse said police had received 8,000 to 10,000 leads, 1,300 of which were worthy of follow-up. Investigators have already looked into almost 900 of those, Dinse said.
"Some of these leads are very promising," Dinse said.
Police and FBI agents set up three checkpoints in the Smarts' neighborhood Tuesday night to "identify all the people that come through, especially on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning," FBI agent Dan Roberts said.
While the possibility of finding Elizabeth alive diminishes with time, there are exceptions that still give her family reason to hope.
|Deseret News graphicElizabeth Smart kidnapping: Facts and rumorsRequires Adobe Acrobat.|
Bob Smither, co-founder of the Laura Recovery Center Foundation, said his organization has worked on cases where children have returned home safely after more than a month.
In one case, two girls, similar in age to Elizabeth, were abducted near Houston, Texas, and taken into Mexico. After 33 days the abductors released the two girls in rural Mexico. The two girls found a telephone, called their family and were eventually returned home.
"It's really hard to know what's going on in the abductor's mind," Smither said. "One can certainly hope and pray if Elizabeth is being held by someone that something will touch his heart and let her walk to a telephone."
Smither said that the enormous volunteer effort in Salt Lake City was the largest response his group had ever witnessed in more than 30 ground searches. That, combined with the continual hope expressed by Elizabeth's family in media interviews, are reasons to believe a happy ending is still possible, Smither said.
"I think it's important to the family to feel that they're communicating with Elizabeth, and if indeed Elizabeth is out there being held and seeing any of the coverage, it will be a great comfort to her."
"We've eliminated a lot of potential leads, but I don't know if we're any closer to finding the (kidnapper)," Atkinson said Tuesday afternoon. "We think it's someone who's been in that area who (the Smarts) may know or has known them."
In other cases, Atkinson said detectives usually find a small clue that leads them to another bit of information and then another and another until eventually all the pieces fit together to solve the puzzle.
There is evidence that has been collected by investigators that has not been made public. "There is more to this case that we're not telling," Atkinson said. But he admitted there isn't a "large" pile of evidence being withheld. All of the general facts about the case have been released, he said.
The lack of a lot of evidence has added mystery to the story and fueled a media frenzy. Atkinson now believes that intense media coverage has driven the kidnapper into hiding.
As for the many rumors that have circulated due to the evidence or lack of evidence being released, Atkinson said the public should be wary of reporters who cite unnamed "sources" in their stories.
"(The reporters) only get pieces of information. They don't get the full story. (Unnamed) law enforcement sources aren't really sources. They're just speculating like everyone else," he said.
Still, without the media, Atkinson doubts investigators would have received as many leads as they have.
Since the kidnapping occurred, the spotlight has shifted from real estate agents to a milkman to a sketch artist drawing of a mysterious man to Bret Michael Edmunds and to the members of the Smart family. While no one has been eliminated as a suspect, Atkinson said some have been put on the back burner.
Investigators are leaning toward the theory that the kidnapper was familiar with the Smart family and the abduction was not a random incident.
"It might be somebody that people might not suspect. It might be the type that people would say, 'He would never do that.' It might be a person who held a position of trust," Atkinson said.
Tom Smart, Elizabeth's uncle, said the family still backs investigators.
"We stand 100 percent by the police, the FBI and the volunteers' effort," he said. As for rumors that a family member may be responsible for the kidnapping, "We know it's not the family," Smart said.
Meanwhile, the search continued Wednesday for Edmunds, a transient who was known to frequent the Avenues area and even showed up at Liberty Park during a candlelight vigil for Elizabeth Smart June 9 . But Atkinson said investigators just want to talk to him.
"We believe he's just a witness," he said, though investigators don't believe he was a witness to the actual kidnapping.
What police are hoping is the public will focus less on Edmunds and more on who they believe is the real suspect: a man who is between 5 feet 8 inches and 5 feet 10 inches tall, with dark hair on his arms and the back of his hands, and who was dressed nicely with a Polo brand shirt, tan pants, dark shoes, a light-colored jacket and a golf or English driving-style hat similar in color to the jacket.
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