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About Utah: No shortage of caring in Destiny case

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There is absolutely nothing good about a girl being kidnapped, and I'm not about to suggest there is.

But I am about to suggest that one positive outcome in the wake of the gruesome kidnapping and murder of 5-year-old Destiny Norton is the realization that wealth and class status don't have nearly as much to do with determining public and media involvement as was so often suggested four years ago when 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart was abducted.

Destiny disappeared in the poor side of town; Elizabeth in the high-rent district. In many ways, their circumstances couldn't have been more class distinctive.

And yet both received similar local attention. In both cases, search centers were up and running within hours, private reward money was donated, the Amber Alert was sounded, toll-free information numbers and Web sites were set up, a community candlelight vigil was organized and the mayor offered his office's unqualified support.

More people — probably two or three times as many — volunteered to search in the Smart case, it's true, but that was because the Smart disappearance began with what amounted to a five-alarm scream — when her little sister said a man took her from their bedroom — while Destiny Norton was walking in her yard one minute and gone the next, with no eyewitnesses to alert the neighbors.

Once it became apparent that Destiny Norton hadn't wandered into a corner of the house or gone off to play at a friend's house, the urgency and the support picked up steam fast. Three days later, 700 people were canvassing the same city and canyons that had been canvassed for Elizabeth Smart. For some of those 700 who had spent June of 2002 volunteering in the Smart search it was deja vu all over again.

As for the media, both stories received considerable attention. According to Deseret Morning News archives, this newspaper ran 47 stories dealing with the Smart case during the first 10 days compared to 31 for the Norton case during its first 10 days. The Smart case had more leads and developments early on — and more law enforcement leaks to fuel speculative stories — but both stories received similar front-page play.

In other area media, the Destiny Norton case, like the Elizabeth Smart case, was inarguably the No. 1 story.

If anything, it could be argued that kidnappings receive an inordinate amount of media attention, often taking the focus off other deserving stories because of their sensational nature.

But it won't be as easy in the future to suggest that the media and by extension the public only cares when the victims are rich, white and well-connected.

Sadly, the two cases did not have similar conclusions.

The Smart search resulted, eventually, in Elizabeth's recovery. And few would question the huge role played by the extreme public awareness in helping bring her home.

The Norton search, on the other hand, was largely an exercise in futility. Destiny's fate, it now appears obvious, was settled before the search had a chance to begin. And to make it worse, the man accused of abducting and killing her managed to at first cloud the scent by reportedly participating in the search himself.

All that's left is a neighborhood and a city much more sober, and sadder, than it was before.

Equally down over what happened to Destiny Norton, I think it would be safe to say, as it was up when Elizabeth Smart came back home.

Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com and faxes to 801-237-2527.