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Elizabeth Smart found alive

Elizabeth Smart leaves the Salt Lake City police department with her family on Wednesday.
Elizabeth Smart leaves the Salt Lake City police department with her family on Wednesday.

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Elizabeth Smart, missing since June 2002, was found alive near Salt Lake City.
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Salt Lake City, Utah, Police Chief Rick Dinse announces that Elizabeth is safe and sound
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Ed Smart, father of Elizabeth, says his family is 'so very grateful'
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Eyewitness John Ferguson tells Wolf Blitzer about Elizabeth's recovery
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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (CNN) -- Missing teenager Elizabeth Smart, the subject of an intense police hunt since she was reported abducted from her bedroom last summer, was found alive Wednesday in the nearby suburb of Sandy and reunited with her family.

"I don't know what she's gone through and I'm sure she's been through hell," said Elizabeth's father Ed Smart, adding that it was "absolutely wonderful" to have her back with their family.

Salt Lake City Police Chief Rick Dinse said 15-year-old Elizabeth "is well and healthy."

"She knows who she is," he said, and police are questioning her about what happened. "She's a very smart, alert lady," Dinse said.

He added, in response to a flurry of questions, "We are convinced she was kidnapped" and held against her will.

Ed Smart said Elizabeth described being taken at knife point. But he said he hasn't asked her for details of her ordeal because he didn't want to traumatize her any more.

The two people -- identified by Dinse as suspects -- are Brian David Mitchell, 49, a drifter and self-described prophet who calls himself "Emmanuel" and did some work in the family's home in November 2001, and Wanda Eileen Barzee, whose relationship to Mitchell was not clear. "America's Most Wanted" described her as Mitchell's wife.

Police were tipped to Emmanuel's whereabouts by two callers who had seen his photograph and knew he was wanted for questioning in Elizabeth's disappearance. The callers said they had seen a man resembling Mitchell walking down a street with two females in the Salt Lake City suburb of Sandy.

Witness John Ferguson described an older couple "calmly talking to police."

But Sandy Police Chief Steve Chapman said when police officers confronted the couple "they were evasive in some of their answers." After further questioning, police were certain the man was Emmanuel and the girl was Elizabeth. At the time, she was wearing a wig, sunglasses, a blue overcoat and something resembling a veil.

Elizabeth reportedly was moved around

"I don't really feel like I've done any great thing," said Anita Dickerson, one of the callers who tipped off police. "I did not think about any reward. I'm a mother with seven children."

No charges have been filed, but U.S. Attorney Paul Warner said those responsible for the girl's disappearance "will be vigorously prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

Dinse said police are investigating reports that Mitchell had been seen in San Diego and in Florida since Elizabeth's June 5 abduction.

Smart family spokesman Chris Thomas said, "My understanding is that she camped a fair amount of that time. She also traveled around the country to different places. I believe Ed mentioned San Diego."

He also said that there was no way Elizabeth could have escaped because "she said she had two people with her at all times."

Former U.S. Sen. Jake Garn, a close family friend who participated in searches for Elizabeth, said it's his understanding that immediately following her disappearance, Elizabeth was hidden in the mountains, then taken to San Diego, Atlanta and only recently returned to the Salt Lake City area.

Clusters of yellow and blue balloons floated from trees and railings all through the Smart's upscale in-town neighborhood Wednesday.

Father always believed she was alive

Elizabeth was found with Brian David Mitchell, 49, a drifter and self-described prophet who calls himself
Elizabeth was found with Brian David Mitchell, 49, a drifter and self-described prophet who calls himself "Emmanuel."

One of the girl's uncles, Chris Smart, said the girl's father, Ed Smart, "was called down to the police station. He wasn't told why. When he found her, when he saw her, he was overcome."

Chris Smart broke down in tears as he recounted the story.

Dinse said the family reunion "was emotional. It was exciting, a thrill for everybody." He said Elizabeth was crying and added, "As you can imagine, she was very excited."

In Salt Lake City, people were honking their horns and asking each other, "Have you heard? They found Elizabeth!" according to Garn.

The Smart family never gave up hope during their nine-month ordeal that Elizabeth would be found.

Garn said his wife, Kathleen, saw Ed Smart at church this past Sunday and asked him how he was doing.

"He said, 'I am fine because I still believe Elizabeth is alive,'" Garn said.

The girl's relatives were ecstatic.

"I just had to ask about three times whether it was really true," said Cynthia Smart-Owens, Elizabeth's aunt. "Then I just had to give thanks to God that she was found, that he has answered all the prayers."

Younger sister witnessed abduction

"America's Most Wanted" described Wanda Eileen Barzee as Mitchell's wife.

Elizabeth was abducted at gunpoint from her family's 6,600-square-foot Salt Lake City home June 5, 2002, while her parents and four brothers slept. Her younger sister, Mary Katherine, 10, who was in the bedroom with Elizabeth, witnessed the abduction.

The younger sister said she pretended to be asleep and later said the kidnapper had threatened to hurt Elizabeth if she didn't keep quiet.

In a February 3 statement, the Smart family said Mary Katherine, who previously said the man who kidnapped her sister had seemed familiar, came to her parents in October 2002 and said, "I think I know who it might be."

She identified the man as a person the family knew as Emmanuel, who had worked at the family home once in November 2001 after they came across him asking for change downtown. The family said he worked at the home for five hours, helping on the roof and raking leaves.

Police later identified him as Mitchell.

After the abduction, police quickly focused on 48-year-old handyman, Richard Ricci, calling him "a possible suspect." He was never charged with kidnapping and died last August 30 from a brain hemorrhage while in the Utah State Prison on lesser charges of burglary relating to the Smart family.

At Wednesday's news conference, Dinse said Ricci had a lot information "pointing at him," but the chief acknowledged it could turn out Ricci had nothing to do with Elizabeth's disappearance.

Ricci's widow, Angela Ricci, asked for her reaction to Wednesday's development in the case, told reporters, "I'm grateful that she's alive."

She said her husband told her, "I had nothing to do with this ... I can't believe that they think I did this."

She said, "I'll always stand by him and I always have."

Bret Michael Edmunds, a 26-year-old drifter, was also once a focus of the investigation. He was questioned by police in a West Virginia hospital. No police action resulted.

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