The Day I Saw Elizabeth Smart and Didn’t Know It

Brian David Mitchel is finally going to trial for the kidnapping and rape of Elizabeth Smart. I generally try not to heap ill-wishes on others, even if I don’t like them, but it’s hard to avoid with this man. I’m glad I’m not responsible for deciding his salvation. The eyes of all the frightened girls I tried to empower so they would have some sense of control over their own safety again will always be in my mind. So will her eyes. The ones I saw above the veil.

I remember when Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped in June 2002. She was 14 at the time and my oldest daughter was 15. It was horrible. Parents all over Utah were edgy and nervous, and children, especially girls, were paranoid. Everyone became more diligent about locking their doors and windows. People who had security systems double-checked them. My family was grateful to have a protective dog with sharp teeth.

I conducted quite a few self-defense seminars for teen girls that year at churches all over town and even helped my martial arts instructor conduct some in a couple of schools. One of the greatest problems that occurred for our community was not knowing who to trust. Like a scene from a bad horror movie, people were seeing “bad guys” around every corner. Yet at the same time, everyone felt knit a little closer together through the common anxiety and worry that if this could happen to a girl like Elizabeth, this could happen to one of their children too.

Everybody was on the lookout for Elizabeth and parents kept a wary eye on their own children. We had all memorized her face, or at least we thought we had.

One day that September, sometime within the first two weeks, I was shopping at my local Good Earth Natural Foods store. Going up and down the aisles looking for “healthy” snacks to feed my cravings or soy milk for my child with the dairy intolerance, I saw two women dressed in funny-looking robes. They were made of cotton broadcloth; the older woman wore brown tones and the younger one wore shades of blue. They had kerchiefs tied over their hair and veils pinned across their faces.

I remember thinking, “What nut-cakes, dressed up early for Halloween or something. How tacky to dress like Muslims and not even get the outfit details right.” The clothing they wore was very offensive to me because I was tired of hearing people mock all Muslims because of the extreme behaviors of an Islamic fringe and so to me, “playing dress-up” in a similar style was equally demeaning.

I saw them again at the check-out line paying for their food. I was in a different line to pay for mine; behind a man with brown shoulder-length hair and a neatly trimmed, full beard. Recent news reports had requested everyone hang blue ribbons up on trees and other places as a show of support for Elizabeth. This man had a small, light blue bow tied in the center of the beard. I remember thinking, “That’s kinda sweet. And a little brave.” While I was paying for my purchases, I saw the two women walk out of the store, followed not long after by the man.

This was an unusual enough scene that I went home and told my kids about these “weird people I’d seen at the store today”. I wonder what all the other people who saw them in the store thought. What did the employees think? What about the other customers? Did they go home too and tell their families about the strange people they’d seen that day? Imagine my dismay when just about a month or six weeks later, I heard a news report that they may have been spotted in California and that the woman and Elizabeth were wearing robes and veils.

I’ve wondered since then if there was anything I could have changed that would have brought a different outcome for that awful situation, but I can’t think of anything. They weren’t misbehaving in any way and you don’t call the police just because someone you don’t know dresses strangely.

I’m glad that she was without the veil one day and that an alert passer-by recognized her and stopped to help. I’m glad her family has been so supportive of her. Her bravery continues now as she testifies in the trial that is finally moving forward for the man who did this to her. The man who had the audacity to wear a light blue ribbon in his beard for a missing little girl whom he had kidnapped and raped. I hope he gets locked away for the rest of his life.

winner-winner, chicken dinner :-/




  1. I remember the day they found Elizabeth. I heard the news as I pulled into the 7-11 for gas. We had just moved and I was still doing a lot of back and forth to get some of the things that were still in our old house. I went inside to pay and gleefully shouted that they had found Elizabeth Smart. The clerk said, “Who’s Elizabeth Smart?” I found the only person in the country who didn’t know that name. He had just returned from a foreign mission.


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