The self-styled "Prophet of God" suspected of kidnapping Salt Lake City teenager Elizabeth Smart may have been driven by a revelation telling him to gather seven young wives into a polygamist family, police and media reports said today -- with Elizabeth and, possibly, her favorite cousin as the first "wives."
The reported revelation may explain what drove Brian David Mitchell, 49, who is accused of abducting the then-14-year-old Elizabeth from her Salt Lake City home last June. During the nine months that Elizabeth lived and traveled with Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Ilene Barzee, 57, there was no ransom demand and no contact with the Smart family.
Elizabeth, looking healthy and unharmed, was found Wednesday walking down a sidewalk in a Salt Lake City suburb with her alleged abductors. The teenager went home to a joyful reunion with her parents and five siblings.
Mitchell and Barzee were jailed without bail pending charges of aggravated kidnapping, police said.
A mental health worker, Vicki Cottrell, visited Barzee in the Salt Lake County Jail this morning. Cottrell told the Deseret News here that Barzee had described a revelation the couple received in the fall of 2000 telling them to gather seven "young wives" into a family. Cottrell speculated that Elizabeth was taken to be the first of these additional wives.
This theory may also help explain an announcement today from Salt Lake County Sheriff Aaron D. Kennard. The sheriff's office, he said, suspects that Mitchell may have been responsible for the attempted late-night break-in at the home of Jessica Wright, 18, a cousin and good friend of Elizabeth Smart. That break-in, seven weeks after Elizabeth was abducted, may have been an attempt to kidnap Jessica as well, the sheriff said.
The screen on Jessica's bedroom window was cut with a knife, the sheriff said, and a chair was found outside the window. The break-in at the Smart home also involved an intruder standing on a chair to cut away the screen window with a knife. In the Wright case, shouts from inside the house sent the intruder racing away. The incident was attributed to juvenile delinquents, the sheriff said, but police questioning of Elizabeth on Wednesday led investigators to focus on Mitchell.
Salt Lake City Police Chief Rick Dinse said Thursday that Mitchell, an excommunicated Mormon, believed that polygamy was approved by God. But Dinse said there was no evidence Mitchell had treated Elizabeth as a wife. On several occasions during the nine months she was in his control, Mitchell referred to Elizabeth as "my daughter."
Mitchell, who walked the streets of Salt Lake City in a long white robe preaching the words of Jesus, had been a low-level official of the Mormon Church before he was excommunicated. Like a minority of Mormons here, he criticized the church hierarchy for its decision, more than a century ago, to end the practice of polygamy. Congress required the church to ban polygamy as a condition of Utah's admission to the union in 1896. Mitchell called himself "Emmanuel" or "Immanuel," a Hebrew word meaning "God with us" and referring to the messiah. He published a 27-page tract, "The Book of Immanuel David Isaiah," that says the "blessing of polygamy" should be restored to Mormon believers.
Elizabeth Smart, who turned 15 last November, while in San Diego with Mitchell and Barzee, spent today with her extended family in Salt Lake City, relatives said. For the past two days she has been going through the tens of thousands of letters and e-mails that came to her home expressing hope for her safe return.
Her father, Ed Smart, said she had no idea that her kidnapping had gripped the attention of the nation when she was first taken last summer. During her travels around Utah and Southern California, she did not see the countless posters with her smiling face seeking information about the missing girl.
In a deeply religious city, the safe return of the abducted teenager was greeted as nothing less than a miracle. Thousands of city residents gathered for a public celebration at a downtown park this evening, and Elizabeth's parents thanked their neighbors for support during the nine-month ordeal.
But the happy civic mood was offset somewhat by criticism of the police, who now admit that they were slow to pick up on the Smart family's suggestion that "Immanuel" might have been Elizabeth's abductor. The victim's 10-year-old sister, Mary Katherine, who saw the abduction through the darkness in their shared bedroom, told her parents last fall that she thought the kidnapper might have been the handyman she knew as "Immanuel."
But the Salt Lake police, focusing on another suspect, did not publicize the information about "Immanuel."
While Elizabeth was in his control, Mitchell was arrested and jailed for six days in San Diego after breaking a church window -- possibly looking for a place to sleep. Mitchell gave a different name to San Diego police and was released after six days in jail. San Diego authorities said they had no knowledge that the man in their custody was the man suspected of a kidnapping that had horrified the country.
San Diego authorities today released a video of the court hearing in which Mitchell pleaded guilty to vandalism and was set free. He told the judge that he was living "with some friends of the Lord Jesus Christ" in San Diego. He added that "my wife and daughter" were living there as well. Authorities said the trio had lived at an outdoor homeless encampment in the Lakeside section of San Diego.