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Missing US Teenager Found Safe After 9 Month Kidnapping Ordeal - 2003-03-13

A missing girl in the U.S. state of Utah has been found unharmed nine months after her abduction, an event that her family has hailed as a miracle. Police found Elizabeth Smart in suburban Salt Lake City with a handyman who had once worked in her home.

There were cheers as police announced that Elizabeth Smart is well and reunited with her family. The girl, now 15, disappeared June 5 at age 14. Her younger sister told police that a man had abducted her at gunpoint from her bedroom.

Wednesday afternoon, police found the teenager with a drifter who was wanted for questioning. The man, who calls himself Emmanuel, is described a street preacher to the homeless. He had briefly worked as a handyman at the girl's home.

Authorities identify the man as Brian Mitchell, and say they are questioning him and a woman companion.

Police had earlier singled out another handyman as a suspect. The girl's family released a sketch of Mitchell just one month ago. The family of the suspect later provided photographs, which were widely distributed on posters. Police say two local people tipped them off about Mitchell's location.

Chip Burrus of the Salt Lake City office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation said investigators are thrilled at the happy outcome.

"Up there in that interview room, you've got a boatload of officers. You can't wipe the smiles off their face. They're so excited to have her back," he said. "I can't tell you how many times in the FBI we've conducted investigations with our state and local partners where this has not been the outcome."

Police received more than 16,000 tips, one of which cracked the case. Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson thanked the public and news media, who assisted police in the nationwide search for the girl.

"And it's because of everybody coming together as a community, here and throughout the United States, it's because of that sense of community that we're able, all of us, to celebrate today," he said. "Welcome home, Elizabeth."

The Smart abduction was one of several high-profile kidnappings of children last year. Officials cautioned that, despite the heightened publicity, there was no rash of child abductions, as many feared.