5 questions about Elizabeth's return

Circumstances of whole case one big mystery

Philadelphia Daily News/March 14, 2003

Ed Smart called the return of his teenage daughter, Elizabeth, who had been missing since June, a "miracle."

Maybe so. But if finding Elizabeth Smart alive and well just 15 miles away is a miracle, then the nature of her alleged bedroom abduction, the man believed to be responsible for it and the circumstances that resulted in Elizabeth's return to her family in Salt Lake City remain a mystery.

And mysteries are always messier than miracles.

Smart, 15, yesterday spent her first day home watching one of her favorite movies "The Trouble With Angels." She also played the harp.

"It's real!" Ed Smart told a crowd of reporters gathered outside the family's church yesterday. "I can't begin to tell you how happy I am, what an absolute miracle and answer to prayers this has been."

Meanwhile, Salt Lake City detectives were questioning drifter and self-proclaimed homeless prophet Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee. They were being held in jail on suspicion of aggravated kidnapping. Both were found with Smart on Wednesday afternoon walking along a suburban street, when passersby alerted police.

Charges have yet to be filed against Mitchell or Barzee. But while police have said they believe Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped, the circumstances of her disappearance and discovery only raise more questions.

Such as:

1 Why didn't she escape, and how did Elizabeth Smart turn from a high-achieving 15-year-old into an apparently docile, veiled companion of a homeless drifter after being kidnapped from her bedroom nine months ago?

A: A Smart family spokesman said Elizabeth could not escape because she was constantly in the company of her two captors.

Trauma expert Dr. Michael Nuccitelli said Elizabeth was likely in a state of "learned helplessness where the child gets to a point that she realizes there is nothing she can do either to escape or to inform the authorities."

"Although she was 15 years old, not five years old, she is still a child and does not have the brain capacity to deal with what the abductors were doing on a daily basis," said Nuccitelli, executive director of SLS Health in New York.

Cult and trauma experts said on yesterday that Elizabeth Smart was likely brainwashed, using classic methods of sensory deprivation, threats and kindness that can change a victim's personality in just a few days.

After that, even without shackles on her feet, a gun to her head, or possible sexual coercion, Elizabeth was probably in a state of such mental helplessness that thoughts of escape were futile.

"Her mind may well have been in chains," said Jim Siegelman, co-author with Flo Conway of the 1978 groundbreaking cult book "Snapping."

2 Why did it take Elizabeth Smart's sister so long to come forward with a memory of the abductor looking like Mitchell, the drifter known as "Emmanuel" who worked briefly as a handyman at the Smart's home?

A: Perhaps fear or trauma. Mary Katherine said that the man had threatened to harm Elizabeth the night of the abduction if her younger sister made any noise or notified her parents.

Mary Katherine also never claimed to have had a clear view of the abductor. But after the death in custody of a possible suspect, another Smart handyman named Richard Ricci, attention turned toward "Emmanuel." Police, who finally pursued her information, found the the description of Elizabeth's abductor to be more closely matching Mitchell.

3 Why would the Smarts, a wealthy family who lived in a million dollar home, hire drifters and handymen to do work on their roof instead of professionals?

A: Ed Smart is a real estate broker and would know professional contractors capable of performing any work needed at his home. He certainly could afford them.

And if the family knew anything about "Emmanuel" they might not have hired him. The self-proclaimed street prophet reportedly wrote a book declaring his connection with the divine and criticizing the Mormon Church. The Smarts, like many in the state, are devout Mormons.

But perhaps this was a case of being a good samaritan.

In November, Mitchell reportedly was invited over to the house to do work after Lois Smart met him in downtown Salt Lake City panhandling. He was paid $50 for fixing skylights and shingles on the roof and never returned. Seven months later, however, police believe he broke into the Smart home and abducted Elizabeth.

4 What about Ricci? He was fired after allegedly stealing jewelry from the Smarts.

A: Ricci always maintained his innocence in Elizabeth's disappearance, and members of the Smart family frequently expressed skepticism that Ricci was involved.

Any answers that Ricci may have ultimately provided were lost when he died of a brain aneurysm in jail last Aug. 30, where he was being held for a parole violation.

5 An aneuryism?

A: Ricci's death was ruled accidental and is not considered a homicide.

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