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Most Utahns gave up hope of finding teen

Nine months after Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her Federal Heights bedroom, Utahns had virtually given up hope she would be found alive.

According to a Deseret News/KSL-TV poll, conducted Thursday by Dan Jones & Associates, 83 percent of those questioned thought she probably or definitely would not be found alive.

About 10 percent thought she probably would, and only 5 percent said she definitely would be found alive.

"We knew that statistically it could be nothing less than a miracle," said Tom Smart, Elizabeth's uncle and a family spokesman. "But we've always believed in miracles."

Elizabeth Smart, now 15, was found Wednesday afternoon in the company of Brian David Mitchell, a vagabond street preacher and self-proclaimed prophet who called himself Emmanuel, and his wife, Wanda Ilene Barzee, near a bus stop at 10200 S. State.

Elizabeth claimed to be their daughter, and it took more than 30 minutes of police questioning before she admitted she was Elizabeth Smart.

Police and family members had been looking for Emmanuel for weeks, but it was alert citizens who separately recognized the bearded man in flowing robes from broadcasts of "America's Most Wanted."

They called Sandy police from their cell phones.

"The people who called in are heroes," said Sandy Police Chief Steve Chapman.

Those polled agreed.

When Utahns were asked who deserved the most credit for finding Elizabeth, 40 percent credited the citizens, 20 percent credited the Smart family and 19 percent the media. The police garnered only 5 percent of the responses.

In the weeks leading up to Elizabeth's recovery, the Smart family had become increasingly critical of police for not doing more to find Emmanuel, whose only contact with the family was five hours working on the Smart family roof. The only witness to the June 5 abduction, Elizabeth's younger sister Mary Katherine Smart, only recently recalled that the abductor bore a resemblance to Emmanuel.

When Utahns were asked how they rated the efforts of law enforcement over the past nine months of the investigation, 79 percent said excellent or good, while only 16 percent said fair or poor.

But the Smart family and the police have mended old wounds. At a news conference Thursday, Salt Lake City Police Chief Rick Dinse admitted mistakes were made during the investigation, conceding that he wished a sketch artist's drawing of Emmanuel had gone to the public sooner. And, Ed Smart said all the important thing is that Elizabeth is back.

"We are human," he said. "We've got her back. That's what counts."

Although the households queried in the poll were not asked about the television series "America's Most Wanted," both 911 callers later told the media that they were fans of the show and recognized Emmanuel from programs that had asked the nation's help to find the potential suspect.

"That is the whole reason we are here is to have these kind of endings," said Steve Katz, supervising producer for "America's Most Wanted."

Katz also told the Deseret News that he was in meetings with the program host John Walsh and other producers when Walsh predicted that if they found Emmanuel they would find Elizabeth.

The statewide flash poll of 403 households was conducted March 13. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent. There were no significant patterns observed in the answers based on gender, age, religion, place of residence or family income.


E-MAIL: donna@desnews.com