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Sister tells of Barzee’s troubled life

She says abuse triggered mental breakdown

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Evelyn Camp

Evelyn Camp

Evelyn Camp's big sister Wanda — the one who played the piano better and used to make her giggle — sits in a mental hospital, convinced that she's the "Mother of Zion."

Camp spoke Friday about Wanda Barzee, who along with Brian David Mitchell is accused of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart, setting off a nine-month search that ended when the couple was arrested on a Sandy street. For Camp and other family members, the arrest — and the pictures of a dishevelled Barzee on front pages around the world — was just one more dismal milestone in a saga that Camp believes started with traumatic abuse by Barzee's first husband.

"I'm sorry if I cry through it," Camp began as she addressed a media luncheon hosted by the Utah chapter of the National Association of the Mentally Ill. NAMI chapters around the country have launched a "Campaign for the Mind of America" to keep mental health issues in the spotlight, including the reminder that "these are illnesses that put the whole family under siege," said NAMI Utah executive director Vicki Cottrell.

Camp, her husband and mother have visited Barzee at the Utah State Hospital, where she was transferred for treatment in March after spending a year in jail. Last January, Barzee was found mentally incompetent to stand trial, and an evaluation released in July by a doctor at the hospital declared her "delusional." Her status is currently under review.

Barzee still insists that Mitchell is "the only living prophet" and told Camp "I want you to know I was compelled to do everything I did." But she also hugged Camp's husband on a recent visit and told him, "I'm so sorry for everything." Barzee, Camp said, is "being helped in the hospital" and on the most recent visit said, 'They're helping me learn to let go of my past.' "

As a child, Camp said, Barzee excelled at everything and had an infectious laugh. As an adult, Barzee "desired stability and love," but instead her first husband made the family move 33 times in 22 years and chronically abused her in ways that are "not appropriate to talk about."

"These were the triggering factors that caused the mental breakdown Wanda had," Camp said. Barzee's mental illness is not unlike the post-traumatic stress disorder Camp's husband suffers from 30 years after serving in Vietnam, she said.

Brian Mitchell "offered a seemingly timid manner" when the family first met him, Camp said. Soon, though, a darker side of Mitchell began to emerge. He quit his iron-working job, complaining that the ornate railings he worked on were "graven images." About the same time, Camp said, her talented big sister played the organ for the dedication of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, then complained "she felt an evil spirit here, that it was a worldly building and she never wanted to set foot in the building again." Eventually the couple quit attending the LDS Church, and later still Mitchell began calling himself a prophet.

"I used to say, 'If only we could get Wanda away from Brian,' " Camp recalled. " 'If only we could kidnap her.' "

But the couple disappeared, showing up again finally at a family funeral in 2002. "There was no life in her face," said Camp. "This was a girl who was always smiling, was always laughing."

The next time Camp saw Barzee's face it was a picture from "America's Most Wanted."

"I know she was guided by the Spirit to bring Elizabeth back," Camp said. She said Barzee told her that while she and Mitchell were living on the streets with Elizabeth in California, Barzee had a vision in which their father, grandfather and Johann Sebastian Bach appeared to her and told her to return with Mitchell to Utah "to be turned over to the fiends of the world."

E-mail: jarvik@desnews.com