Officials find man wanted for questioning in missing girl case
MARTINSBURG, West Virginia (CNN) -- A drifter wanted for questioning in the abduction of 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart in Salt Lake City was apprehended Friday in this town after checking himself into a hospital for an apparent drug overdose, the U.S. Marshals Service said.
Police described Bret Michael Edmunds, 26, who has been sought for questioning in the Salt Lake City case for more than a week, as a "wanted fugitive," but insisted he still is not a suspect in the June 5 kidnapping.
Edmunds' green Saturn was towed from the hospital parking lot to an undisclosed location Friday afternoon. Authorities said there was no sign of Elizabeth in the vehicle, but a law enforcement source familiar with the investigation said forensics procedures were being conducted on the vehicle.
Edmunds remained in serious condition in the intensive care unit at City Hospital, under heavy guard.
The arrest in Martinsburg came more than 1,800 miles away from Salt Lake City. At some point along the way, Edmunds picked up a different license plate. Authorities had issued an all-points bulletin for his vehicle with Utah license plate 266XJH; when the vehicle was found, it had Washington license plate 350KPH.
Marshals were asked Wednesday to look for him because he is wanted on federal charges of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. He is also wanted on local charges that include assaulting a police officer.
Edmunds gave false name
Edmunds gave a false name when he checked into the hospital, but he also gave his mother's contact information in Salt Lake City, said Geoff Shank, a senior inspector with the U.S. Marshals Service.
He said a family member told the hospital who the man was. At the same time, Shank said, the marshals got a tip Friday from a source who said, "Hey, we think the guy you're looking for has checked himself into a hospital in Martinsburg, West Virginia.'"
"That's when we dispatched our deputies," he said.
The deputies arrived at the hospital around 2 p.m. Friday and found his green Saturn in the hospital parking lot.
"The deputies went to the room and then positively ID'd him with the photo," Shank said.
"We're not going to question him on the case. We find fugitives, we find people who are wanted in questioning in large cases like this," said Shank. "Now, we're going to turn him over to the authorities that began this thing so they can look into it a little further."
The FBI confirmed Edmunds was in custody and said its agents had arrested him in his hospital room. The FBI is currently questioning him, authorities said.
Edmunds, described by police as a heroin addict, had suffered a drug overdose that made his liver stop functioning, said Shank. "He was in pretty bad shape from a medical standpoint."
Hospital spokeswoman Teresa McCabe said Edmunds is in serious condition, but "he is conscious."
She said "something made the nursing staff suspicious" about the man when he first checked in and they began looking "through some items" to try to learn more about him.
Three other patients in the ICU were relocated out of the ward and the area was "secured immediately" when he was positively identified, she said.
"The intensive care unit is totally locked down at this moment, and will remain that way as long as Mr. Edmunds is a patient here," McCabe said.
'Until Elizabeth dances with us'
Ted Wilson, a neighbor and friend of the Smarts and the former mayor of Salt Lake City, said the family was "cautiously optimistic" after hearing news of Edmunds' capture.
"I think it is a shot in the arm to us. We need something, and this is something," he said. However, he added, "We will not dance in the street until Elizabeth dances with us."
Wilson also said that even though Edmunds hasn't been labeled a suspect in the girl's disappearance, "There's something fishy about this gentleman, and we need to find out what that is."
Edmunds first came under scrutiny in the kidnapping case after a milkman reported seeing him near the Smarts' sprawling 6,600-square-foot mansion in the Federal Heights neighborhood of Salt Lake City just a day or two before Elizabeth was abducted at gunpoint from her home. Police then got more tips from neighbors who said they had seen Edmunds sleeping in his car in the area before the abduction.
Edmunds -- a 6'2", 235-pounder -- was seen almost two weeks ago at a vigil in Salt Lake City. Police approached him, but he fled in his vehicle.
Kidnapped girl's father pleads for daughter's return
Earlier Friday, the father of Elizabeth Smart begged her kidnapper to return her to her family.
"I'm pleading with whoever has her that I would do anything to have her back in my arms," Ed Smart told reporters. "Please realize how much she's missed. She's missed tremendously."
One of Elizabeth's aunts, Angela Smart Dumke, added, "Nobody lives in a bubble. Someone has to have had contact with the man who has taken her."
Smart's daughter has been missing since early June 5, when her 9-year-old sister, Mary Catherine, told their parents she had seen a man take Elizabeth from the family's Federal Heights home while the parents and the girls' four brothers were asleep.
"I want to reinforce to you that we still think Elizabeth is out there. We need you to be the eyes and ears in the neighborhood," Ed Smart said. "Each person is a searcher. Please keep your eyes and ears open."
Elizabeth's mother didn't attend the news conference because she has been sick, her husband said.
"She needs a day to rest," he said.
Referring to his trembling voice, Ed Smart explained, "I just want everyone to really know [that] it's not a feeling of upset. It is a feeling of thankfulness.
"I really want everyone to know how thankful I am. I am just overwhelmed at the response we've had from everyone and for the caring and the love. It's overwhelming. I want everyone to keep going forward because that's how we're going to find her."
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