17 Years After Elizabeth Smart Was Found, Her Dad’s Confession Sent Her Back Into The Spotlight

17 Years After Elizabeth Smart Was Found, Her Dad’s Confession Sent Her Back Into The Spotlight

Ed Smart is no stranger to the spotlight. He is, after all, the father of Elizabeth Smart – the teenager who disappeared in horrific circumstances nearly two decades ago. But years after Elizabeth was thankfully found safe, Ed found himself the subject of scrutiny once again. Speaking on network TV, he made a stunning revelation – and that confession would catapult the dad and his daughter right back into the public eye.

In The Spotlight

Ed is likely used to the attention, though, as he and his wife, Lois, became household names in the most unimaginable of circumstances. In the summer of 2002, their 14-year-old daughter was snatched from their home in the Salt Lake City suburb of Federal Heights. At the time, Elizabeth Smart had been in the bedroom she shared with Mary Katherine, her younger sibling.

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Something You Don’t Forget

And, terrifyingly, Mary Katherine claimed to have seen the crime taking place. The then-nine-year-old, who had feigned sleep during the kidnapping, later told cops that the abductor was a dark-haired white man, possibly in his 40s, who stood at approximately 5’8” tall. Unfortunately, though, she didn’t manage to get a clear look at his face. She had also been left too frightened to immediately raise the alarm.

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Staying Hidden

Scared of being taken by the abductor, Mary Katherine instead hid in her bed for around two hours before alerting her parents. And while Ed and Lois initially believed that she’d merely had a bad dream, it wasn’t long before their real-life nightmare began. A cut screen window seemed to prove that Mary Katherine wasn’t making the whole thing up.

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Going Public

So, after informing the police of the crime, Ed and Lois did everything they possibly could to find their daughter. They became regular faces on television as they pleaded for her safe return. With the aid of 2,000 volunteers, the Laura Recovery Center also helped to conduct an extensive search mission across the region.

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Uncovering Every Stone

Yet there may have been little hope of finding Elizabeth – at first, anyway. Police had little DNA or fingerprint evidence to go on, and not one of the hundreds of suspects they questioned generated a concrete lead. But the desperate Smarts were determined to keep their daughter’s name in the public’s minds by continually talking to the media. And against all the odds, their tactics paid off.

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An Explosive Lead

Then there was a break in the case. Approximately four months after her sister was abducted, Mary Katherine suddenly made the startling claim that she recognized the voice of Elizabeth’s kidnapper. The young girl believed that it belonged to Immanuel, a jobless man who had briefly done some manual work for the family. And after the Smarts subsequently hired a sketch artist to draw an image of the man they remembered, this likeness was aired on various high-profile TV shows.

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The Sketch

Incredibly, the release of the sketch produced the most promising lead of the entire investigation. The family of a man named Brian David Mitchell believed that the drawing looked like him and revealed as much to the authorities. And, thankfully, when recent photographs of Mitchell were shown on TV, one particular viewer was paying close attention.

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All In Disguise

The individual in question had been out in the Utah city of Sandy when they spotted a familiar face. Yes, it was the very same man she’d seen on TV – the one who was wanted in connection with Elizabeth’s abduction. And after being tipped off, cops managed to track down Mitchell, who at the time was also accompanied by a woman and a young girl. Dressed in a veil, sunglasses and gray wig, the girl was soon identified as Elizabeth Smart.

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A Chilling Story

So, what had happened to Elizabeth in the nine months since she had gone missing? Well, after first being taken from her family home, the 14-year-old was transported to a woodside encampment just outside Salt Lake City. There, she had been introduced to Mitchell’s partner, Wanda Barzee. And, disturbingly, Elizabeth was reportedly forced to take part in a ceremony in which she “married” her abductor.

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A Bizarre Premonition

Elizabeth was also told by Mitchell that he was an angel with a very clear plan. The abductor allegedly declared that he would “emerge in seven years, be stoned by a mob, lie dead in the streets for three days and then rise up and kill the Antichrist.” Apparently, Mitchell similarly revealed that he intended to abduct several other virgin brides in his attempt to defeat the Devil.

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Pure Evil

It was a desperate situation, but it only got worse for Elizabeth. The teenager was allegedly chained to a tree with a metal cable to stop her from fleeing. According to her court testimony, she was also subjected to repeated sexual assaults and several death threats. And only adding to her ordeal, Elizabeth was reportedly plied with drugs and alcohol against her will and deprived of food. Mitchell was assisted in his depravity by Barzee, later described by Elizabeth as “the most evil woman” she’d ever encountered.

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A Potential Escape

Then, just three months after Elizabeth’s abduction, she and her two captors moved to San Diego County, California. There, the trio constantly looked for new places to take shelter – often in the dead of night. And while Mitchell did actually find himself in jail in February 2003, it was only on the charge of breaking into a church. Was this a missed opportunity to save Elizabeth?

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Convincing The Cops

There had actually been a previous close call in August 2002. While visiting Salt Lake City Public Library in August 2002, Mitchell and Barzee had nearly been caught out after raising suspicions with their unusual attire. The pair had dodged further scrutiny, however. Somehow, Mitchell had managed to convince cops that the youngster accompanying them was his daughter Augustine.

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Voice Of The Court

Of course, parading Elizabeth in public did eventually lead to Mitchell and Barzee’s downfall. Following the teenager’s rescue, Mitchell was detained at the Utah State Hospital where he was psychologically evaluated. And although his defense team’s experts claimed that the abductor was delusional and therefore unfit to stand trial, the court disagreed.

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Lining Up The Time

Finally, after years of failed plea negotiations and declarations of mental incompetence, Mitchell was forced to stand trial in 2010. And in December of that year, he was convicted of Elizabeth’s abduction – a crime for which he was handed two life sentences. Barzee was similarly found guilty and ordered to spend 15 years behind bars.

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Walking Free

Having already spent six years in federal prison before her sentencing, Barzee was released in September 2018 at the age of 72. And she continued to make headlines even after that. In late 2018 it was reported that despite her status as a registered sex offender, Barzee was living close to an elementary school in Salt Lake City. Her parole, which is under federal supervision, will end in 2023.

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High Profile Appearances

But what happened to Elizabeth after the trauma of her nine-month abduction? Well, there were some media appearances to begin with. In 2003 she sat next to Ed and Lois for a Dateline NBC interview with Katie Couric. This was followed shortly afterward with a spot on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Still, as time went by, Elizabeth appeared to want to put her ordeal behind her.

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Pushing Back On Air

This was clear during a 2016 chat with Nancy Grace, when Elizabeth was constantly asked about her kidnapping. The frustrated teen hit back, saying, “I am… not [here] to go into what – you know, what happened to me… I’m really not going to talk about this at this time… and to be frankly honest, I really don’t appreciate you bringing all this up.”

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Raising Awareness

Yet Elizabeth did use her own traumatic experiences to create some good. In 2006 she spoke in front of Congress in a bid to support the AMBER Alert system. Five years later, she also set up her own eponymous foundation. The organization works with the Internet Crimes Against Children task force in a bid to raise awareness of sexual and violent crime.

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Pushing For New Laws

And Elizabeth has continued to advocate on behalf of the powerless. In 2013 she delivered a stirring speech at Johns Hopkins University on the issue of human trafficking. The brave young woman followed that up by testifying in support of a child sexual abuse prevention bill at the Utah State House of Representatives in 2014.

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Saved By Her Faith

All throughout this time, Elizabeth has also continued to carve out time for her faith. She has served as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, heading to Paris for a year-long mission in 2009. In a 2015 video for religious campaign Faith Counts, she also admitted that her beliefs had been a great source of comfort to her during her kidnapping ordeal.

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Starting A Family

And during her stint in Paris, Elizabeth found her happy ending when she began dating Matthew Gilmour, a fellow missionary from Scotland. The couple walked down the aisle in February 2012, and they have since welcomed three children, Chloe, James and Olivia, into the world.

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Owning Her Story

It even looks as though Elizabeth has come to terms with her abduction. You see, the young woman served as both producer and narrator of Lifetime movie I Am Elizabeth Smart, which aired 15 years to the day after she was cruelly taken from her bedroom. The film, telling the tale of the crime and its aftermath, stars Alana Boden in the title role.

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A Sudden Split

But while Elizabeth’s story is far from over, another member of her family took the spotlight in 2019. After more than three decades of marriage, her father, Ed, took to Facebook to reveal that he was no longer together with Lois. And the reason behind the couple’s split quickly made headline news.

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Coming Out Of The Closet

Why did the Smarts part ways? Simply because, as Ed admitted, he was gay. NBC News brought the revelation to further attention after obtaining the coming-out statement Ed had made on Facebook. There, the dad had touchingly revealed, “I am finally acknowledging a part of me that I have struggled with most of my life and never wanted to accept.”

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A Late Admission

Ed added in his message, “I have recently acknowledged to myself and my family that I am gay. The decision to be honest and truthful about my orientation comes with its own set of challenges, but at the same time it is a huge relief.” Still, what exactly had inspired the 64-year-old to come out so late in life?

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Refusing To Stay Silent

Well, Ed admitted that he could no longer align himself with the attitudes of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Mormon Church. The father of five explained that he’d “mostly watched in silence for years as many LGBTQ individuals both in and out of the Church have been victims of ridicule, shunning, rejection and outright humiliation.” He added that he could no longer stand by and not be counted.

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Beliefs Rooted In The Past

Although Ed’s former church allows children born within the LGBTQ community to be baptized even without leadership approval, its overall stance on homosexuality isn’t particularly enlightened. The Mormons’ official line is that attraction to the same sex is a sin. It also regards marriage between two men or two women as a “serious transgression.”

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No Way To Live

And while Ed admitted that religion had been a “major part of [his] life and a great blessing,” he added, “As an openly gay man, the Church is not a place where I find solace any longer.” He claimed, too, that being in the closet all these years had often impacted his mental health.

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Seeking Support

But, of course, Ed’s coming out also greatly affected Lois, and he acknowledged the “excruciating pain” that he’d inflicted upon his wife as a result of his revelation. He even offered an apology to Lois as he revealed to the world that the pair were no longer together. And at least Ed still had the support of his daughter. Yes, the very girl that he’d worked so tirelessly to find 17 years previously.

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Staying Strong For Her Parents

In a statement reacting to her father’s news, Elizabeth spoke with kindness, writing, “While I am deeply saddened by [my parents’] separation, nothing could change my love and admiration for them both. Their decisions are very personal.”

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A Truly Enlightened Response

The mother of three also went on to insist that she would not be assigning any blame to either Ed or Lois. Instead, she revealed that she would be “focusing on loving and supporting them and the other members of my family.” And Elizabeth’s touching response was just one of many that Ed received in the wake of his revelation.

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Spreading The Love

In a statement to NBC News, Ed revealed that his “deeply personal but liberating” coming-out had been greeted with “amazing love and support from everyone.” He also hoped that his experience would help and inspire others who find themselves in similar circumstances.

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An Impossible Secret

Ed added, “It was, as I’ve said, incredibly hard getting to this point. And I feel for so many that are struggling in my situation trying to make the decision of whether to come out or remain closeted the rest of their life.” A few months later, he explained again how difficult it had been to keep such a secret while appearing on CBS’ This Morning.

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“There Is No Cure”

“I was praying that I was not [gay],” Ed told interviewer Gayle King. “I didn’t want to believe that I was. But how do you cure being gay? There is no cure. And for all of those out there that are struggling in the same spot, there is no cure.”

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Aftermath Of Guilt

Ed also revealed that he’d contacted various leaders of the Mormon Church as he attempted to come to terms with his sexuality. He told King, “I literally called my bishop up one morning. And I said, ‘You know, I feel like I’ve stabbed Lois in the heart.’”

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Not Accepting The Truth

“And I went to my other church leader, and I said to him, ‘So am I gay? Am I gay?’” Ed continued. “And he said to me, ‘I don’t think so.’ He said, ‘You know, there’s this spectrum.’” And church leaders weren’t the only ones proving less than helpful when it came to Ed’s inner turmoil.

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No More ‘Therapy’

In another interview with NBC News, Ed revealed that he’d used therapy as a way to help explore his feelings. While in one of those sessions, however, he was told that he wasn’t actually gay. “That was the answer I wanted to hear,” Ed admitted. “And I bought into that, and I went to therapy for four months, and finally I quit going. I just knew that this wasn’t a problem that was going to go away.”

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Moving Forward

Still, now Ed had finally come to terms with the truth. And he appeared to have an ally in Elizabeth, who he claimed had been a tower of strength since his public coming-out. Ed said, “I was talking to Elizabeth this morning, [and] she was like, ‘We all have to get used to our new normal.’ That was the comment we found as Elizabeth returned. Life could not ever be the same, but there does become a new normal, and we move forward with that.”

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