by John Edward Gill
Elizabeth Smart’s family may get rich from selling her story to the media.
Chris Thomas, a spokesperson hired by the Smarts, said the family has been deluged with up to 100 book and television movie offers and they would be considered in the coming weeks, according to the Chicago Tribune, March 17, 2003.
“It’s something that they’re going to deal with soon,” Thomas told the Associated Press on March 17, 2003. “They’re trying to figure this all out — it comes down to let someone else tell the story or tell it themselves.”
USA, ABC, NBC, CBS, and Lifetime are all reportedly interested in obtaining rights to the story.
“It really covers the broad spectrum,”Thomas continued. ” “I haven’t looked at all of them, and I don’t want to disclose specific names and studios or other entities, but we’ve been contacted by some really big names.”
“There are some people who may exploit the family, and that’s unfortunate,” he told The New York Times on March 17, 2003. Smart was taken from her home in Salt Lake City, Utah, on June 5, 2002, and found by police recently walking near Salt Lake City. Brian David Mitchell, a religious extremist who did repair work at the Smart house one day in November, 2001, is suspected in the kidnapping, as is his wife, Wanda Barzee, according to the Associated Press, March 3, 2003.
There are some members of the press who disagree with the media coverage of Elizabeth Smart.
“I believe that truth sets us free,” wrote Laura Berman, in the Detroit News, March 16, 2003. “But Elizabeth Smart and her family are entitled to discover the truth on their own. We have no right to feast on it.”
In writing about all the media coverage of Smart’s return home, Berman felt,” Hidden behind robes and a veil (when she was found by police), she (Elizabeth) lived undetected and unnoticed for months. Now that the veil is off, my worry is that our (the press) gloves are off, too.”
Berman went on to explain that there were reports of polygamy and a possible marriage in a desert ceremony (of Smart to Mitchell). Yet Berman felt, “We don’t have any particular need to know what happened to her.”
“Which is why I give credit to Patty Hearst for advising her parents to shut down the story and say, whatever the facts, there was no sexual abuse of Elizabeth Smart.”
Hearst was a young college student abducted by so-called “political revolutionaries” in the late 1960s and later convicted of helping them rob a bank.
Currently, Elizabeth’s family and relatives have not pressed her for details of her lifestyle since the kidnapping, but said they were certain the child had been brainwashed by the man she knew as Emmanuel (Mitchell), according to the Chicago Tribune, March 17, 2003. That newspaper quoted family members as saying she had been “incapable of escape during months of wandering streets and canyons almost within sight of her home”.
“She had no ability to control her life,” Charles Smart, her paternal grandfather, said. “She was completely controlled by Emmanuel.”
While Utah authorities are investigating the situation, there has been little mention, so far, that Mitchell had been hired to work on the Smart family’s roof.
Sometimes children are kidnapped by neighbors or family acquaintances.
For instance, last July 26, Cassandra Williamson, 6, was abducted from her suburban St. Louis, Missouri, home and her body found the same day. A 24-year-old transient who had slept the night before on the couch in her home, has been arrested, charged with her murder, and is now awaiting trial.
And in San Diego, California, on February 2, 2002, Danielle van Dam, 7, was abducted from her home during the night. A neighbor, who lived nearby, recently was convicted of murder.
Yet fear of stranger abductions of children heightened last summer with many highly-profiled cases reported in the media.
But actual child abductions by strangers have been decreasing, according to FBI sources, as reported last August in the Orlando (Florida) Sentinel. That newspaper quoted those sources as saying the FBI opened 115 cases in 1998; 134 in 1999, and 106 in 2000. 2001 had 93 cases, and 46 have been reported in the first half of 2002, according to an FBI spokesperson.
“There aren’t more cases — just more national media coverage,” agreed Tina Schwartz, a spokesperson for the National Center for Missing and Exploited children, in Alexandria, Virginia.