The resolution was perhaps as shocking as the crime itself: Ten years ago today, Elizabeth Smart was found alive nine months after a religious zealot in search of plural wives kidnapped the 14-year-old from her Salt Lake City home.
Most people likely thought she was dead, although Elizabeth’s parents never publicly expressed anything but confidence that their daughter would come home.
Many Utahns remember exactly where they were when they heard the astonishing news that Elizabeth had been rescued. But a few were in the middle of this uniquely Utah drama.
‘Thou sayest’ » When Sandy police Sgt. Victor Quezada heard from dispatchers that two couples had possibly spotted Elizabeth on a Sandy street, he didn’t think much of it: Nearly every agency in the Salt Lake Valley had received a false alarm about the missing teen.
But this call — that the girl was with another woman and a man who looked like the suspected kidnapper, Brian David Mitchell — seemed more legitimate, Quezada said Monday.
"I had my doubts that it was going to be anything, to be honest," he said. "But when I first pulled up, the first thing I fixated on was him. He looked just like the guy."
Quezada, now a lieutenant with Sandy police, was the fourth officer on the scene near 10200 S. State St., after Karen Jones, Troy Rasmussen and Bill O’Neal.
The officers separated the trio, O’Neal said, and took Elizabeth about 50 yards away from Mitchell. She looked familiar, he said, maybe a kid he had interacted with in the past. Then he looked at her smile, at her teeth, and it hit him: This was Elizabeth Smart.
But Elizabeth, wearing large sunglasses and a wig, repeatedly denied she was the missing girl.
"Her heart was beating so hard in her chest, you could see it," said O’Neal, now a Sandy police captain. "She was extremely nervous, visibly nervous."
But after 30 minutes, Quezada said, his patience was wearing thin.
"I was actually getting frustrated out there," Quezada said. "It’s been 30 or 40 minutes, and we know she’s not telling us the truth. But, on the other hand, she’s been through an ordeal that we can’t even imagine. So my frustration was, we have the answer, but just tell me the answer. And she wouldn’t do that. And at the very end, I said, ‘You know, for your family’s sake, for your sake, for everybody that’s been looking for you around the country, just tell us you’re Elizabeth Smart.’ Before she got into the patrol car, she said, ‘Thou sayest.’ "
Quezada said he and O’Neal looked at each other and decided to "take that as a yes."
Quezada and O’Neal said their actions on that March day they weren’t necessarily heroic or extraordinary. They were just street officers doing basic police work.
The officers said they have followed Elizabeth’s case, from Mitchell’s 2010 trial to seeing her grow into a young woman.
"I’m glad that [Mitchell] was found guilty," Quezada said. "Bigger than that, though, I’m glad she’s OK and that she’s functioning, from what I understand, a normal lifestyle. She shouldn’t be robbed of another minute by what happened and let him win. I’m happy for that."
Spotted » Sandy residents Alvin Dickerson and his wife, Anita, were running errands on March 12, 2003, when he spotted a homeless man and two women. When they drove past the trio a second time, something about the man’s face jogged Dickerson’s memory.
Half-kidding, he told his wife that the man looked like the street preacher suspected in Elizabeth’s June 5, 2002 disappearance.
"It was Mitchell [I recognized]," Dickerson said recently. "You didn’t recognize the other two at all. Especially Elizabeth, the way she was dressed. I hate to say this, but I think everybody thought she was dead, except her father."Next Page >
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