The Park Record editorial, November 10-12, 2010
November 9, 2010
Eight years after her unimaginable ordeal, a grown-up and impressively composed Elizabeth Smart has once again captured our attention. As she took the stand this week, it was hard to believe that the chain of events took place eight years ago. The memories are still vivid and our hearts still ache for Elizabeth and her family. But, while painful, the trial is a valuable reminder of some of the lessons learned in the nine months that Elizabeth was missing. The most important is the example of hope and perseverance set by the Smart family as they doggedly hunted for their missing daughter. Despite the skeptics and, at times, reluctant law enforcement officers, the Smarts kept Elizabeth alive in the public’s eye. They refused to give up hope that they would find her. As we learned this week, that resilience was matched by an innocent 14-year-old who testified on Monday that — despite the horrors that she was experiencing on a daily basis – she was equally determined to survive and to be reunited with her family. That strength of character has been evident this week. Elizabeth Smart may never know how many victims she has inspired by holding her head up and facing her tormentor in order to bring him to justice. Though many of us wish that she could put the past behind her and never have to relive it, her courage may help to convict not just Brian David Mitchell but other perpetrators whose victims, inspired by Smart, are now empowered to testify against them. There were other lessons, too. In the rush to judgment to find Elizabeth and capture her kidnapper, an innocent man was wrongfully accused. Richard Ricci did not live long enough to see his name cleared. That miscarriage of justice should be taught and re-taught in law and criminal-justice classes for a long time to come. Few people dared to come to Ricci’s defense in the days before the Mitchell connection was made and his story remains a sad example of social stigma and fear. Finally, as coming testimony is sure to remind us, Elizabeth’s rescue by ordinary citizens is a reminder of the power of individual awareness and responsibility. On March 12, 2003, two witnesses called police to report seeing a man who resembled the recently released pictures of Mitchell along with two women who were disguised. Mitchell and Wanda Barzee, his accomplice, were quickly apprehended and Elizabeth was joyfully reunited with her parents. The rescue highlighted the effectiveness of using mass media to help search for kidnap victims and the immense value of attentive citizens who are not afraid to intercede. Elizabeth Smart’s kidnapping made all of us feel more vulnerable but her trial is helping to empower us. For that we owe a little girl and her family our profound gratitude.