The Miracle Girl
03/20/2003 AT 11:27 AM EST
It will likely be a long, long time before that weight is lifted. Nine months after Elizabeth was taken at knifepoint from her bedroom as she slept, she emerged as if from nowhere on a busy street in Sandy, Utah, on March 12, after four people recognized the man she was with: Brian David Mitchell, 49, profiled days earlier on America's Most Wanted. She was dirty and disguised and clearly under the spell of Mitchell, a religious fanatic who worked as a roofer at the Smarts' home for a day in 2001 and who claimed to be a prophet named Immanuel. But she was alive and in good shape and, coming as it did amid threats of war and terror, that news seemed like some sort of a blessing. Even President Bush took time out from his war plans to phone her elated parents, Ed and Lois Smart. "We always knew that if Elizabeth was alive it would be a miracle," says her uncle Tom Smart. "But we always believed that the miracle was very, very possible. And, sure enough, it was."
The good feelings about Elizabeth's return, however, were tempered by concern and sadness as details of her horrific ordeal came to light. On March 18 prosecutors charged Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee, 57, with aggravated kidnapping, burglary and sexual assault. They also charged that after abducting her, Mitchell forced Elizabeth to march four miles in her pajamas, from her home to a secluded and decrepit campsite that had no plumbing and little shelter. Threatening to kill her and her family, he kept her there until October. Often he hid her in a hole covered with boards; at other times he attached a cable to her leg and tied her to a tree.
What's more, "she was raped," Chris Thomas, spokesman for the Smart family, told PEOPLE. "Elizabeth is doing very, very well, as well as can be expected under the circumstances." The Smarts were particularly worried about prosecutors filing sexual abuse charges since they wished to shield Elizabeth from having to relive that aspect of her ordeal at trial. Now they simply hope to protect her privacy as much as they can. "Their No. 1 concern right now is helping her get over this," says America's Most Wanted host John Walsh, who has been counseling the Smarts. "What she needs is to be with her family again, to establish some normalcy. And the district attorney has to be sensitive to this girl who has been through hell."