Elizabeth Smart, the Salt Lake City teenager snatched in the night from her bedroom nine months ago, was found alive and well in the company of a drifter who had once worked as a handyman at her family's home and his wife.

The startling conclusion to a crime that had captivated the country because of its chilling circumstances came Wednesday in a Salt Lake City suburb about 15 miles from where Elizabeth had disappeared.

Police said they stopped the drifter, Brian David Mitchell, and his wife, Wanda Barzee, shortly after two people reported spotting them near a fast-food restaurant. Elizabeth, 15, was found with them, unharmed and wearing a dark wig.

Elizabeth evidently developed a bond with her alleged captors. The police officers who confronted the trio on a sidewalk in Sandy, a Salt Lake suburb, said the teenager repeatedly denied her identity -- even after she was led away from the older couple to a squad car. And when the trembling young woman finally confirmed that she was Elizabeth Smart, police said, she expressed concern about what would happen to the man and woman with whom she had been living.

The girl experienced a surreal nine-month odyssey in which she spent weeks literally within shouting distance of the thousands looking for her. At one point the teenager was living in a first-floor apartment one block from police headquarters.

The girl's father, real estate broker Ed Smart, spoke for much of the community at an emotional news conference. "What an absolute miracle this is," Smart said between sobs. "God lives! He answers prayers."

-- Rene Sanchez and T.R. Reid

Elizabeth Smart, left, accompanied by mother Lois and two unidentified men, leaves Salt Lake City police station for home after being found alive and well in Sandy, Utah.