clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Was Smart stalked for months?

Also, new questions come up about police handling of case

Brian David Mitchell may have stalked Elizabeth Smart for months before he allegedly cut through the window screen at the Smart home, kidnapped the teenager at knifepoint, and then took her to the foothills above her house where they camped for two months.

And as details about Elizabeth's nine months in captivity began to emerge Thursday, new questions also arose about Salt Lake police handling of the kidnapping case and Mitchell, a self-proclaimed polygamist.

Police would not comment on a possible motive in the kidnapping or whether Elizabeth was physically or sexually assaulted. But both police and Ed Smart believe she was "brainwashed," or affected psychologically.

"There's clearly a psychological impact that occurred. There's no question she was psychologically affected," Salt Lake Police Chief Rick Dinse said at a press conference.

The Sandy police officers who found her said Elizabeth at first denied who she was, even when the officers said they knew her name was Elizabeth Smart.

"I know you think I'm Elizabeth Smart, but I'm not," she said, telling officers that her name was Augustine.

Also Thursday, Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson said he is seeking an independent investigation of the department to determine if the case was handled properly.

"I anticipate asking some people in our community to help out in an independent review. In doing that, there's no indication anything was done wrong," Anderson said Thursday night after speaking to a group of students at Westminster College of Salt Lake City.

Meanwhile, the Smart family and Salt Lake police apparently have buried any tension between them, although both sides admitted mistakes were made in the police investigation.

For one, Dinse admitted that not releasing a sketch artist drawing of Emmanuel sooner was a mistake.

"Hindsight is 20/20 vision," he said, conceding that all of the investigators involved "wish we had gone public with that photograph sooner."

Dinse said he was also worried that releasing the sketch would generate false leads that would "eat up" valuable time. On Feb. 10, the Smarts released the sketch on their own and received a call from Mitchell's family in less than 24 hours.

Despite the tensions, Ed Smart said that all that mattered was his daughter's safe return.

"We are human. We all make mistakes. We learn and move forward," he said. "We've got her back. That's what counts."

In other new details released Thursday and Friday:

Investigators believe Mitchell stalked Elizabeth for several months prior to the kidnapping, closely watching her and examining her home's exterior.

They believe he entered the house June 5, 2002, by cutting through a window screen from the outside, something that Salt Lake police had always believed was done from the inside to throw them off the trail. But it was a point that Ed Smart heavily emphasized at the Smart family press conference.

"It was cut through the outside," Smart yelled during Thursday's news conference, apparently wanting to make sure that those who insisted the cut screen was a ruse knew they were wrong.

Questions were also raised Thursday about whether Mitchell had intended on making Elizabeth his wife, possibly even conducting his own wedding ceremony the night she was kidnapped, according to some sources.

Dinse admitted that Mitchell was a self-proclaimed polygamist but said, "I do not want to attach his relationship with Elizabeth in that fashion."

Elizabeth's aunt Heidi Smart agreed on the "Today" show Friday, saying she doesn't believe the two were married.

"The information that we've been given is that she was kidnapped and she was held captive and what went on from there psychologically is information that is still to come out," she said. "I think we're looking at a lot of those speculations and stories as just that."

But Ed Smart, on the "Today" show Thursday, said Elizabeth had seen "bad things" during her ordeal. Asked to explain what "bad things" she might have seen, Tom Smart said, "This man is evil. It's what you'd imagine."

Mitchell allegedly abducted Elizabeth at knifepoint. Until Wednesday, police had believed he used a gun.

After the kidnapping, Mitchell took Elizabeth to the foothills above her Federal Heights home where they and Wanda Barzee lived until August, Dinse said. During that time, Elizabeth could hear searchers in the area, including an uncle, who called out for her, her father said.

But for the most part, Ed Smart said Elizabeth did not know the intensity of the search for her. She never saw the signs or street billboards with her picture on them, he said.

FBI agents found Thursday what they thought were the remains of Mitchell's campsite in Dry Canyon near the University of Utah. But authorities did not release any information about the site.

After two months the trio moved to Salt Lake City, where they were reportedly seen by a number of individuals. By then Elizabeth was dressed in a long white dress and a veil that covered everything but her eyes, making her unrecognizable.

In October, the three took a bus to San Diego, Dinse said. Dozens of people contacted police in Lakeside, Calif., Thursday, saying they had seen Mitchell when he was there.

Mitchell was arrested for burglary and vandalism and put in jail for six days while in California. He was accused of trying to break into a church, possibly looking for a place to sleep.

Mitchell gave San Diego police a false name. He was eventually released after paying a $250 fine, Dinse said. Fingerprint records Thursday confirmed the man arrested in Lakeside was Mitchell.

"As far as we knew this was a transient who broke into a church, pled guilty to vandalism, had no outstanding arrest warrants and we let him go," Chris Saunders with the San Diego County Sheriff's Office told KSL-TV.

Like many accounts in Salt Lake City, residents in Lakeside said they saw Mitchell and his entourage everywhere, but the women were always covered and never spoke.

Mitchell's arrest in California was the second time police had him in custody during the past nine months. On Sept. 27 he was arrested in Salt Lake City for shoplifting. Again, he was eventually released without any connection being made to the Smart investigation.

Even though Mitchell was in jail and away from Elizabeth, she apparently did not attempt to run away.

FBI agents also said Thursday they found a campsite in San Diego they believed belonged to the trio. In addition to searches in San Diego and Dry Canyon near the University of Utah, search warrants were also executed in Montana on Thursday.

FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Chip Burrus would not elaborate on what investigators were looking for but noted that he did not believe Smart was taken there. He also disputed rumors that Smart was taken to Florida or Georgia.

The group returned to Utah at 3 a.m. Wednesday. Less than 12 hours later they were spotted by residents in Sandy who called police.

Dinse said Mitchell is a suspect in the attempted break-in at the home of a Smart relative in the Cottonwood Heights area July 24. Nothing was taken in that case, but a screen window was cut from the outside, similar to the window at the Smarts' house.

Salt Lake County Sheriff Aaron Kennard said Friday that his office is working closely with Salt Lake City police and possible charges are being screened. "There is pretty strong evidence," Kennard said.

Dinse said police first learned of the mysterious roofer named "Emmanuel," or Mitchell, on Oct. 13. From Oct. 21 until Nov. 18, Salt Lake City police made a special effort to go to many of the areas frequented by homeless people in the valley to look for Mitchell.

Pamela Atkinson, with the homeless advocate group Volunteers of America, knows almost all of the homeless people in Salt Lake City and she knew Mitchell. She said, however, that city police never contacted her group to help look for Mitchell, even though transients are the best way to find other transients, she said.

"There is an incredible grapevine among our homeless friends," she said.

Even though Elizabeth is now home, the Smarts are still asking for anyone with information about her or Mitchell's whereabouts for the past nine months to contact them to help in the prosecution of the case.

Asked about his feelings toward Mitchell now, Ed Smart said he would never have guessed at the nature of the man whom he worked with on his roof for several hours.

"He was so soft-spoken. He was so quiet. I never would have guessed that such an animal would have existed behind such a person."


Contributing: Angie Welling, Laura Hancock, Associated Press. E-Mail: preavy@desnews.com