For a while, Ed and Lois Smart jumped every time the phone rang.
The sound filled them with hope and dread: hope that police were calling to say their kidnapped daughter Elizabeth, 14, had been found safe; dread that they were about to learn she was dead.
Now, nearly six months after a gunman stole Elizabeth at gunpoint from her bed in the middle of the night, the Smarts say the calls no longer have the same effect on them.
They accept such calls as part of their strange new life, in which their vanished daughter is everywhere, yet nowhere. For although investigators have found no trace of Elizabeth, tipsters and psychics continue to report sightings and visions of the youngster.
"Every day is a struggle," Lois Smart said in an interview earlier this month. "It would be very easy for me to stay in bed, never leave."
But the Smarts have five other children, ages 4 to 16, who need their parents.
"They take their cues directly from us," Lois Smart said. "As long as we are able to function, so are they."
The frenetic pace of the summer -- when the Smarts held twice-daily news briefings, helped coordinate huge volunteer searches, heard from or called investigators several times daily -- has slowed. The search has been scaled back considerably.
Ed Smart, a real estate broker, said he will continue to seek media attention, to keep Elizabeth alive in the public mind, hoping for the tip that will break the case. He is willing, in exchange, to put up with people following him around, pointing at him, approaching him to strike up conversations.
The top potential suspect in the kidnapping, Richard Albert Ricci, a handyman who once worked in the Smart household, died Aug. 30 after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage while in prison on a parole violation.
He said he had nothing to do with the kidnapping, and whatever he may have known he took with him to the grave.
Investigators have said they believe he was involved but may not have acted alone.
"We have no evidence that Elizabeth's not alive out there," Salt Lake City Police Capt. Cory Lyman said. "There's obviously some information still missing. It could come in tonight, or it could be a long time."
Elizabeth's kidnapping was part of a frightening string of child abductions this year that included the slayings of Danielle van Dam , 7, of San Diego and Samantha Runnion, 5, of Orange County, Calif.
Elizabeth was seized early in the morning June 5 in front of her sister Mary Katherine, 9, by a gunman who may have gotten into the house by cutting a window screen near the back door. As the younger sister pretended to be asleep, the gunman threatened to hurt Elizabeth if she didn't keep quiet.
In the weeks that followed, Elizabeth's parents often got calls from the police, but it was never the information they wanted to hear. Often, police were calling to alert them to grisly discoveries that might be linked to their missing daughter; they wanted the Smarts to know before the story hits the news.
Sometimes the news beat the police. Hands and feet had been found in a canyon, or bones had been discovered in the desert, according to the news. The Smarts would call police to ask if it was Elizabeth. Every time, the answer was no.
Police have followed up more than 16,000 leads from the public in addition to those they have come up with themselves.
"There have been false sightings all over, in several states," said Elizabeth's uncle, Tom Smart. "There are clues, but there are no traces. It's crazier than any fiction."
Police and family continue to be inundated by calls from psychics. Lyman said nearly 600 have contacted police, all with different dreams and visions.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children warns against ignoring such tips, because psychics' purported dreams or visions may be the truth told by someone unwilling or afraid to get involved directly.
That was why, earlier this month, Elizabeth's uncles walked along desolate railroad tracks near the town of Lark about 25 miles west of Salt Lake City. A psychic had told them Elizabeth's body lay nearby. They found nothing.