Then & Now: Elizabeth Smart
Elizabeth Smart stands with her parents after winning the 2004 National Courage Award.
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(CNN) -- In March 2003, missing Salt Lake City, Utah, teenager Elizabeth Smart was found alive after being kidnapped and held captive for nearly nine months. Almost three years after her ordeal, the 17-year-old high school senior's life is getting back to normal, and she works as a quiet activist for missing children.
Rarely does Elizabeth speak publicly of her ordeal, but her father, Ed Smart, calls her recovery a "best-case scenario."
"I think she is a strong girl," Ed Smart told CNN. "For her to make it through those nine months, I think she had to be strong. ... I wake up, and I'm just thrilled that she's there and to see her move forward with her life is great."
In the summer of 2002, Elizabeth Smart was a little girl lost. Police said that on the morning of June 5, Elizabeth was abducted at knifepoint from her bedroom. She shared the room with her younger sister, Mary Katherine, 10, who witnessed the abduction but pretended to be asleep because she said the kidnapper threatened to hurt Elizabeth if she made any noise. Mary Katherine told authorities that the man who took her sister seemed familiar.
The abduction sparked a massive hunt for Elizabeth. Thousands of volunteers searched the Salt Lake City streets and surrounding foothills. Police pursued more than 100 tips, but none of them offered any answers.
Her parents' anguish touched the nation.
"You know, there were certainly times when I had doubts," Ed Smart said of his daughter's disappearance. "I mean, statistically, everyone said that she was dead. ...The not knowing was so horrible. I think that sometimes not knowing is worse than knowing."
After nine months of searching and waiting, her family and the nation got surprising news. Elizabeth was found alive during a traffic stop in Sandy, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City.
She was with Brian David Mitchell, a drifter and self-described prophet who calls himself "Emmanuel," and who had done some handyman work at the Smarts' home.
Mitchell and a woman later identified as his wife, Wanda Ilene Barzee, were arrested and charged with four first degree felony counts: aggravated burglary, aggravated kidnapping and two counts of aggravated sexual assault. Mitchell and Barzee have been ruled mentally incompetent and so have not been tried. They are undergoing treatment and could face trial if eventually deemed competent.
In February 2003, the month before Elizabeth was found, her parents had announced a new reward and had released a photo of Mitchell to the public. Elizabeth's sister, Mary Katherine, had remembered details of the abduction and told her parents she thought she remembered that the man the family knew as "Emmanuel" looked like the intruder who had abducted her sister.
The FBI and the Salt Lake City Police pieced together a timeline of Elizabeth's nine months in captivity.
Chief Rick Dinse said they believe that after Mitchell cut through the screen on Elizabeth's bedroom window and took her from her home, Mitchell hid her in a makeshift camp. The teen spent months in the hills and canyons of the Wasatch Range behind the Smarts' Federal Heights neighborhood. She traveled to San Diego, California, by bus, and had returned to Salt Lake City just hours before two couples recognized Mitchell as the man police wanted to question in the case.
After Elizabeth's rescue and her joyful reunion with her family, the teenager has begun to put her life back together. Elizabeth is dating, driving and playing her harp in recitals, her father said.
"I think that she's put it in such perspective," Ed Smart told CNN. "She says, 'You know, I've got my life ahead of me, and this guy did what he did for those nine months and there is no way that I'm going to let him take any more from my life. He's not worth it.' Certainly she expresses her feelings that she does not want him to be out of jail. But she does not dwell on him."
The ordeal has changed the Smart family, however. In 2003, Elizabeth's parents, Ed and Lois, published a book about their experience, "Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope."
They've also become national advocates for the Amber Alert network, a nationwide coordinated plan for recovery of abducted children. The system uses radio, television, roadside electronic billboards and emergency broadcast systems to disseminate information about kidnapping suspects and victims soon after the abduction of a child is reported.
The Amber Alert was named in memory of Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old Texas girl who was abducted and killed in 1996.
In May 2005, Elizabeth Smart appeared with her parents at the White House to watch President Bush sign a child protection bill that urges individual states to set up Amber Alert systems.
"Right now I think she is focusing on being as normal as possible. ... I think focusing on herself and moving forward is a tremendous example for others to see," Ed Smart said. "So I think that I couldn't be happier. I think that if there were a best-case scenario out of a bad case, I think this is truly it."
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