Most of the time when you read a story about a person who has committed a horrible crime, they get caught and end up being locked away for a very long time. It provides closure for the reader but more importantly for the victims of those crimes. It provides them with peace of mind knowing that the person who harmed them is off of the streets.
But not every story ends that way. In the case of one horrible crime that held the public in its grip for months, the victim would have that peace of mind stripped away years later for an unfathomable reason.
Dominating the News
Back in the summer of 2002, there was one story that dominated the news, keeping viewers interested for months. A 14-year-old girl named Elizabeth Smart was abducted in the middle of the night. She was woken up by a man with a knife who forced her out of her home.
The entire event was witnessed by her 9-year-old sister Mary who she shared a room with. Mary had been awakened when the man came in, but had been frozen with fear and pretended to be asleep.
Just a Dream
After the man had made off with her sister, Mary woke up her parents and told them what happened. They initially thought their daughter had just been dreaming until they found a screen window that had been cut and Elizabeth missing.
Give Back Our Baby
Elizabeth’s parents called the police immediately and, the next day, they went on television pleading for the kidnapper to return their daughter. A massive regional search effort was kicked off involving bloodhounds, airplanes, and as many as 2,000 volunteers each day.
In the Public Eye
But as the days went by and the official and community-led efforts came up with nothing, the number of volunteers steadily dropped until it petered into nothing. Still for months, Elizabeth’s family kept her name in the press, provided home videos of her, and even made a website about her abduction.
There wouldn’t be any breakthroughs in the case until months later when Elizabeth’s sister Mary suddenly realized that she recognized the voice of the abductor. It was a man named Emmanuel who the family had hired for a day to work on the roof and do a little yard work.
Releasing His Face
The family had a sketch artist draw up Emmanuel’s face from their descriptions and released it to the media, where it was shown on programs like America’s Most Wanted and Larry King Live. A tip from the family of “Emmanuel” led police to find him, and with him Elizabeth Smart.
Ceremony in the Woods
“Emmanuel,” whose real name was Brian Mitchell, had held Elizabeth captive for nine months at a camp in the woods with the help of his wife Wanda Barzee. The two had performed a bizarre ceremony where the 14-year-old was “married” to the middle-aged man, who claimed to be an angel.
Mitchell and Barzee apparently believed that he was a “Davidian God” who was destined to kill the Antichrist in seven years. But before that happened, he would need to take “seven times seven wives.”
Months of Terror
Over the nine months that she was held captive, the couple kept Elizabeth shackled to a tree with a metal cable most of the time. Mitchell also repeatedly sexually assaulted the teenage girl, and forced her to consume drugs and alcohol. The couple would also sometimes starve her and sometimes feed her garbage, always with the threat of death hanging over her head.
Barzee would plead guilty to the charges against her and testify against Mitchell, a move that would help reduce her sentence to just 15 years in federal prison and 15 years in state prison to be run concurrently. Mitchell, on the other hand, would be sentenced to life in prison.
Working for Change
In the years since she was abducted, Elizabeth Smart became an activist, working to support sexual predator legislation, the AMBER Alert system, and founding the Elizabeth Smart Foundation. She also wrote two books entitled My Story and Where There’s Hope.
Peace of Mind
Part of the reason Elizabeth Smart could so successfully rebuild herself and move on with her life after her terrible ordeal was the fact that she knew the people who had wronged her would be locked up for a very long time. But in 2018, she would find out that one’s imprisonment wasn’t as certain as she’d believed.
Because Wendy Barzee had been in jail since the time of her arrest, that time counted toward her 15 year federal prison sentence, despite the fact that she’d only been convicted in 2009. In April of 2016, she was released from federal prison and sent straight to a state prison to serve out a 1-15 year sentence for an attempted kidnapping charge, stemming from a plot she and Mitchell had to kidnap Elizabeth Smart’s cousin.
In the months after they had kidnapped Elizabeth, Barzee and Mitchell had tried to break into the home of her cousin, apparently to abduct her and add her to Mitchell’s list of wives. Fortunately, their attempt had been unsuccessful.
Theoretically, it was possible for Barzee to be released if a parole board felt that she’d been sufficiently rehabilitated to rejoin society. But in reality, there was no chance of that since she refused to take part in psychological evaluations or even show up for her parole hearings.
That’s why Elizabeth Smart was shocked when she found out that Barzee was going to be released in September of 2018, due to a decision by the parole board. “Upon further review and advice from legal counsel, the Board must count time spent in federal custody toward Ms. Barzee’s state sentence,” the board said in a statement.
Instead of being locked away for another 15 years, or until her unlikely reform, Wendy Barzee was to be released on September 19th of 2018, roughly 16 years after Elizabeth had been kidnapped.
Danger to the Community
“She is a woman who had six children and yet co-conspired to kidnap a 14-year-old girl, and not only sit next to her while I was being raped but encourage her husband to rape me,” Elizabeth said. “So do I believe that she is dangerous? Yes, but not just to me. I believe that she is a danger and a threat to any vulnerable person in our community.”
“It is incomprehensible how someone who has not cooperated with her mental health evaluations or risk assessments and someone who did not show up to her own parole hearing can be released into our community,” Elizabeth said. “I am trying to understand how and why this is happening and exploring possible options.”