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Salt Lake girl taken from her home

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A 14-year-old girl was kidnapped at gunpoint from her Federal Heights home early Wednesday, sparking an intensive manhunt into three states for both the girl and her kidnapper.

About 1 a.m., a man forced his way into a house at about 1500 E. Kristianna Circle (420 North) through a kitchen window, said Salt Lake Police Sgt. Dwayne Baird. The man cut through a screen and then managed to open the window and crawl through.

He went into the room where Elizabeth Smart and her sister, 9, were sleeping. Elizabeth was taken out of the house at gunpoint while her sister watched, Baird said.

"She saw a little bit of what was going on but she couldn't see him real clearly," he said.

Before leaving the room, the man threatened to harm Elizabeth's sister if she told police what had happened, Baird said. The man then took Elizabeth out of the house, allowing her to grab her shoes before they left.

Despite his threat, Baird said the man was described by the sister as soft-spoken. He did not swear or raise his voice, he said.

"He didn't call (Elizabeth) by name and he did not seem to know his way around the house," Baird said.

Investigators said there was no evidence of a vehicle and believe the two left the area on foot.

About two hours after the alleged abduction, the frightened sister told her parents what had happened. The parents immediately called neighbors to have them check on their own children and begin a neighborhood search.

Elizabeth is 5 feet 6 inches tall, weighs about 105 pounds and has long blond hair. She was last seen wearing red satin pajamas.

The kidnapper is described as a man possibly in his 30s about 5 feet 8 inches, with dark hair and a medium build. Police say he was last seen wearing a tan or white jacket with a white cap. He was also carrying a dark handgun.

The man's description "didn't match anyone who had been at or near the house for several days," Baird said.

By 9 a.m., about 100 law enforcers from several jurisdictions and neighbors along with the state helicopter and dogs were participating in the search.

One of the bloodhounds picked up on a scent right outside the Smart house but could only follow it for a few feet before losing it in some bushes, Baird said. The amount of time that passed from when the kidnapping occurred to when it was reported made it difficult for the bloodhounds to pick up the trail, he said.

Brent Pack, a neighbor who is in the Smarts' Arlington Hills LDS Ward, organized a group of ward members to search the neighborhood as well as the areas around Memory Grove, Emigration Canyon and the Bonneville Shoreline.

"It's devastating," Pack said. "(The Smarts) are such easygoing, mild-mannered people."

By early afternoon, the family requested the search be expanded to southeast Idaho and Wyoming.

Meanwhile, police requested residents restrict their searches to the immediate areas around their homes and not to travel to the Smart house, which by midmorning was a traffic jam of police, media and residential vehicles.

Police also were concerned about residents suffering heat stroke if they were to hike the steep hillsides near the neighborhood.

The incident activated for the first time the first use of the new Rachael Alert system for missing children. The alert gives out warnings about missing children over TV and radio, similar to the way weather warnings are issued.

Groups of girls who know Elizabeth gathered near her house to console each other Wednesday.

"I didn't think it would happen here. Everybody knows everybody. It's a real close neighborhood," said Chelsea Winegar, 12, who went to Bryant Intermediate School with Elizabeth.

Some residents say this alleged kidnapping combined with another high-profile kidnapping attempt 10 years ago at the house right across the street from the Smart home has them on edge.

In 1992, a plot by two men to kidnap the daughter of H. Brent Beesley, the CEO of Heritage Savings Bank, was foiled when a third man involved in the scheme snitched to police in exchange for a more lenient sentence on a separate drug conviction.

The men had planned to hold the daughter for $3 million ransom. More than 30 officers converged on the would-be kidnappers' van as it moved toward the Beesley house.

The mastermind behind the plot was sentenced to five years to life in prison. The other man was sentenced to a year in jail.

By midmorning, investigators did not have any idea of a motive. The family had also been going over several scenarios of what might have led to this.

"I think at this point it's just basically summed up in saying we just don't know," said Tom Smart, Elizabeth's uncle and a photographer for the Deseret News. "I don't know one person in the world who has a beef against Edward (Elizabeth's father) or (his family)."

There had been no calls for ransom money as of 10:30 a.m. Investigators were also questioning real estate agents and others who had been showing the house, which is for sale, looking for clues, Baird said.

The family's computer was also being searched Wednesday to look for whether Elizabeth had been involved in any chatroom discussions recently and may have met someone on the Internet.

Elizabeth lived with her three sisters and two brothers. Their house was in the process of being remodeled, and various workers had been going in and out throughout the week, Tom Smart said. Ed Smart is employed as a mortgage investment broker.

It had already been a hard week on the Smart family. Just Monday, Elizabeth played the harp at her grandfather's funeral, Tom said.

"The family was just emotionally exhausted before this even happened," Tom Smart said.

Now the family is pleading with the alleged kidnapper to return their daughter safely.

"Please bring this beautiful girl back unharmed. Cut your losses at this point and bring her back," Tom Smart said.

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