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Police defend Smart probe

Suspect had been arrested in San Diego

Elizabeth Smart, right, with father Ed and sister Mary Katherine at home Thursday.

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (CNN) -- Salt Lake City police defended their investigation into missing teenager Elizabeth Smart on Thursday amid growing criticism that they ignored as a suspect the man found with the girl Wednesday afternoon.

At the top of the list of concerns was why the police department waited for months to release a sketch of Brian David Mitchell, who has been arrested as a suspect in the abduction of Elizabeth. Also arrested is Wanda Ilene Barzee, believed to be Mitchell's wife.

"Hindsight is 20/20 vision," Salt Lake City Police Chief Rick Dinse told reporters. "If we had to go back over it again, that decision by the investigators, each one of them would say, 'I wish we would've gone public with that photograph sooner.'"

Dinse did not acknowledge mistakes, however. Instead, he praised the investigators and shed new light on why his department appeared to move slowly on the tip from Elizabeth's younger sister that a homeless man named "Emmanuel" was responsible.

Dinse said his department actively pursued dozens of suspects, including "Emmanuel," and quickly canvassed areas known to be inhabited by the homeless. He explained that police only had a single name and a description.

Three composite sketches were made of "Emmanuel" using the description, but the family disagreed on which was more accurate.

"Police did not feel they had a clear consensus on which sketch was the right one," Dinse said. He said his department "didn't want to go out with the bad sketch and generate hundreds of leads in the wrong direction."

In the meantime, Mitchell was arrested in San Diego, California, and gave police a false name. A sketch of Mitchell was not distributed until after he was released from jail on vandalism charges, authorities in California said.

The tip that a homeless handyman was the suspect came from the vague memory of 10-year-old Mary Katherine Smart.

Elizabeth was abducted at knifepoint in June from the bedroom she shared with her younger sister and was found Wednesday walking the streets of Sandy, Utah, with Mitchell and Barzee.

In October, Mary Katherine made the connection between the man she saw in shadow in her bedroom and a man her family once hired to work on their roof.

Police released a description of the man February 3 but still didn't have a name or photograph.

Mitchell was arrested as Michael Jensen just more than a week later in San Diego, California, officials confirmed Thursday.

Mary Katherine's description did eventually lead to a sketch that was broadcast and distributed nationally and was recognized by Mitchell's family members, who then gave photographs of him to police.

It was those photographs that led two couples in the Salt Lake City suburb of Sandy to recognize Mitchell as he walked down a street Wednesday in the company of two females. One of them was Barzee, a drifter described as Mitchell's wife, and the other turned out to be 15-year-old Elizabeth.

Mitchell and Barzee were held by police and Elizabeth was reunited with her family.

"The result is a happy result," Dinse said. "We are glad that she is free, we are glad that she is home."

Tom Smart, Elizabeth's uncle, said the family supports the work of the investigators.

"We are so grateful to everyone in law enforcement who worked on this," Tom Smart said.

Dinse said he believes his investigators were getting close to finding Elizabeth and on Monday and Tuesday had searched a home where the trio had stayed in the Salt Lake City area.

Elizabeth was found Wednesday walking down a street in the suburban enclave of Sandy -- just 15 miles from her home -- passing by a missing child poster with her picture on it.

It was the end of an intense hunt for the missing girl that first began in the hills surrounding her home.

At one point, searchers were so close that Elizabeth could hear them calling her name, her father Ed Smart said.

Ed Smart said his daughter told him that through August she was in the nearby foothills and canyons of the Wasatch Range that rise from just behind his Federal Heights home on the northeastern edge of Salt Lake City.

Police mug shot of Mitchell, taken after his arrest Wednesday.
Police mug shot of Mitchell, taken after his arrest Wednesday.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Chip Burrus said Elizabeth was taken to a campsite about three miles from the girl's home and remained there for two months. The campsite has been found and is being processed by the FBI evidence response team.

Burrus said the girl was brought to Salt Lake City in August where she was seen, but not recognized, by numerous people. She was forced to wear a robe, a veil and a wig.

Erin Johnson, an employee of a local grocery store, told CNN she saw the girl with Mitchell and Barzee on a regular basis and that the trio spent "a couple of weeks" with another employee.

Johnson said she didn't recognize the girl because she and the woman would "never look up and never speak." (Full story)

Burrus said Elizabeth was taken to San Diego in October and lived in various campsites in the region. At least one campsite has been found and is also being processed by the FBI.

She returned to the Salt Lake City area around 3 a.m. Wednesday, only hours before two witnesses called to report that a man with a beard and wearing a robe seemed familiar and may be related to the Elizabeth Smart case. (Full story)

Police confirmed that Elizabeth traveled to only three states -- Utah, Nevada and California. Reports that she was in Georgia and Florida have not proven to be true, Burrus said.

San Diego County law enforcement officers said Mitchell was arrested February 12 and held for six days. Chris Saunders, a public affairs officer for the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, said Salt Lake City police confirmed Thursday afternoon that Mitchell's prints matched those of the man they had held under the name Michael Jensen.

It's not clear where Elizabeth was at the time of Mitchell's arrest.

Two face charges of aggravated kidnapping

Barzee is described as Mitchell's wife.
Barzee is described as Mitchell's wife.

Mitchell, 49, is described as a drifter and self-described prophet who called himself Emmanuel. He performed small jobs at the Smart home once in November 2001. The television program "America's Most Wanted" described Barzee as Mitchell's wife. (Full story)

Records indicated that the woman was known as Wanda E. Thompson before late 1986 and Wanda E. Mitchell after that time. Her current Utah driver's license identifies her as Wanda Mitchell. CNN has not found a record including the name Barzee.

The records show that the woman had shared an address with Brian D. Mitchell since June 1986, but no addresses have been found for either of them since June 2001.

Both face charges of aggravated kidnapping, police spokeswoman Peggy Faulkner said.

A Utah law enforcement official said Mitchell's criminal record is scant: a DUI charge, driving without a license and possession of a controlled dangerous substance. All charges date to 1973. Mitchell also has a previous warrant for retail theft, Faulkner said.

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