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Police Search for Elizabeth Smart, But Lack Useful Leads

Aired June 7, 2002 - 13:03   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Right now we want to go out to Utah. And that is where Tom Smart -- he is the Uncle of Elizabeth Smart, the missing 14-year-old -- is speaking.

Let's listen in.


TOM SMART, ELIZABETH'S UNCLE: ... and I want you to know that a sister of one of the friends came and talked to us late at night. She says, look, I don't know anything about this, but my sister does. And she's on her way; she's flying in right now, and she wants to talk to you.

I didn't know. We didn't know. But they talked to us, and by the time they started getting people here they said, listen, we need to find a place for a command center. And it was midnight. And a friend and I came down and we said, OK, where is this going to be. And we went to a neighbor friend and said, what can we do? And he said, well, they vote down here at Shriners, and there's a fire station; and maybe we can do it in a home; and there's this church, and everything like that -- because it's a working fire station, because we had no idea of how big this was going to get.

We just went right down to Shriners, talked to the -- we talked to the maintenance person or security person who was here. Within three minutes she had me on with an administrator, and within four minutes they said, you can have anything you want. And this is -- you can see here what a miracle this is that we have this. And the Shriners Hospital is responsible for that. And the Laura Foundation is responsible for helping us get this set up.

And I believe we're going to find her. And I believe that it's very important that we continue doing this.

So the family would like to thank you for all of that, and recognize those two people. We'd also like to say that a lot of talk has probably been said about the (ph) Smart, because we're here and everything like that. The Francom (ph) family is Lois' family. And they have, I believe, eight children. They probably have had 50 or 60 family -- direct family. I think they each have about eight kids. And they've been up here every day.

They asked not to be part of the press releases and everything like that. They said, we want to be out on the streets; and they're out there right now. I can't tell you the love for the Francom family, and how involved they've been, and their neighbors and friends. And I just want you all to know that.

I don't think that we have anything else to say. But thank you, and God bless.

And there's one other thing I wanted to say. Edward is -- was physically exhausted. The detective's going to talk about this. But Edward and Lois -- Lois' father passed away, and his funeral was on Monday. Edward and Lois were spent 100 percent before this happened. They had been on a death watch for a month before that. He had been trying to sell his house. I mean, they're -- I mean, we love our brother; we love Ed and Lois so much. And I know they wish they could be there. And God bless them, that they get some sleep and some rest. And I know that they both thank you.

And that's all we have to say. Thank you very much.

KAGAN: Listening to some -- well, let's see what the police officer has to say.

CAPT. SCOTT ATKINSON, SALT LAKE CITY POLICE: A couple of things that happened overnight that I'm sure that you're all aware of is the sighting of a person up the canyon that appeared to be clothed like what our suspect was described as. They are currently still in the canyon, looking for that person. At this point they've been unable to locate that person.

We are treating that just like we would any other of the leads. We have people following up on that. We have not pulled other resources to go up there. We continuing to follow other leads. That one is, in fact, just one of the many things that we're doing at this time.

The other thing is the thing this morning that happened. Quite early this morning we were called to the house. Edward had actually become very, very exhausted. He's been taken to a hospital where he has been admitted for exhaustion. As you heard Tom say, the stress of this whole thing is mounting, and the family is feeling it. Talking to family just earlier, they told me that they believe that Lois is back at the house currently, sound asleep, which is good news. We need them to get their rest so that as this progresses they'll be able to help us.

At this point I'll take any of the questions that you have, and we'll go from there.

Oh, Dwayne (ph) wants me to remind everyone that the tip line that we have for this missing girl is 799-3000; or the 800 number, which is 1-800-932-0190. We are continually getting the same amount of calls coming in, trying to provide us with leads. Today, earlier this morning, there have been other agencies in the valley who have lent their support by sending us detectives who are continuing to help us to follow up on those leads.

So I'll take any of your questions that you have.

QUESTION: Captain, can you tell us anything about the work the FBI profilers have done so far? Have your -- your officers are speaking with them?

ATKINSON: Actually, the profilers have been involved, actually, from the very beginning. They actually flew out last night. This morning they are working with our detectives to put together that profile. I don't believe that all that work has been done yet. And they are working with the case agents as we speak.

QUESTION: What's the exact nature of what went down in Emigration Canyon last night? And are those searchers credible people?

ATKINSON: Well, my understanding -- and I haven't been up there, so I can't say for sure what, exactly, happened. My understanding is that two of the searchers saw a man who was trying to conceal footprints or something to that nature in the foothills there. He appeared to have on a cap, and was similarly dressed to the suspect description. When they (sic) saw the searchers, this person supposedly fled. At some point someone thought they might have heard some shots fired. That hasn't been confirmed, whether that was connected to that man or not.

Again, it's one of those things that we have follow up on because it is a lead.

QUESTION: These searchers apparently have some kind of identification, which wasn't official (ph). Is there anything questionable, who these people were who made the report?

ATKINSON: I'm sorry, I can't comment on that. I don't know the credibility of them. The county sheriff has actually been interviewing those people.

And again, we'll follow up on any lead that anybody gives us, so...

QUESTION: What about the reaction of local media? Was there a little overzealous reporting last night at 11:00, calling it breaking news, calling it exclusive, giving out a little bit of false hope?

ATKINSON: Well, I guess I'll leave that for you guys to decide.

Again, what we need to concentrate on is this missing girl. And that's what the police are concentrating on. If there's a tip or a lead or anything like that that will lead us to finding this little girl, we want to have that information and follow up on it.

QUESTION: Is this the best lead you've got so far?

ATKINSON: Is which the best lead?

QUESTION: The possible sighting in Emigration Canyon.

ATKINSON: I think it's on the quality of any other lead that we've had.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) you say you're following (OFF-MIKE)

ATKINSON: Well, again, mostly what we're doing is following up on the people that are calling in giving, us information about people that were in the area. Again, we're looking at people who visited the house, people who may have worked at the house, neighbors, any similar kinds of crimes. Again, everything that's coming in, we're looking at seriously.

QUESTION: How promising or not-promising is this search in Emigration Canyon?

ATKINSON: I don't think it's any more promising than anything else that we had. I don't think that we're taking other resources off to go after that. Again, I think it's just another lead.

QUESTION: Captain, a witness came forward yesterday saying he was the milkman in the neighborhood, and had seen a suspicious vehicle. Is there anything to that?

ATKINSON: The milkman did give us information on a vehicle that he saw the day before -- I believe it was Monday morning. We have been looking for that vehicle. He gave us a license plate that we have been unable to match to any specific car. I believe the license plate that he gave us was 266RDA. Again, that doesn't match anything in the database.

Anybody that has information about a similar kind of car -- I believe they described is as either a Nissan or a Honda, gray-colored. If anybody has information on that, if they'd call the 799-3000 number and give us information on that.

QUESTION: That didn't advance the investigation at all?

ATKINSON: It did not.

QUESTION: Captain, how is the volunteer effort today, compared to yesterday?

ATKINSON: Actually, I'm not -- it looks to be about the same. It looks like we've got quite a few people out again. It's encouraging. We appreciate the people going and searching. And, again, all the information that they get for us, we'll follow up on.

QUESTION: Is there any concern that the volunteers, they aren't acting in an official capacity as -- you know, maybe (OFF-MIKE)

ATKINSON: Absolutely. And we have to take that into consideration.

QUESTION: Are you doing anything to try to deal with that? If you have more than 1,000 volunteers, how do you (OFF-MIKE)

ATKINSON: Well -- and we're not trying to control it. The police department, again, we conducted official searches on the day of the event. The volunteer effort is not being -- trying to be controlled by the police.

Again, we're looking for any information that might help us find this little girl. The information that they provide may be the key to the -- to finding her.

So again, we can't control the people.


ATKINSON: At this point, I don't think so.

QUESTION: Captain, is the amount of tips coming in about the same as yesterday? And are they coming in too fast to deal with, or do you have the personnel to track each one down?

ATKINSON: Yes, what we're doing, and that's -- what we're doing is, we are taking the information that comes in. It's coming about the same as it has been all along. We're getting a call a minute; things like that. We have gotten additional resources today from other agencies in the valley to follow up on them.

We are prioritizing them as to what -- they might be credible, something that needs to be followed up on immediately. You know, someone who is driving down the street that says, maybe I saw this two hours ago gets a different priority than someone who calls up and says, I think I might see the suspect right now.

So we're going through a prioritization kind of system that allows us to sort through those in an orderly manner.

QUESTION: Is it fair to say that this business of the car and the license plate, since you haven't made that announcement in the past, is that low on the priority scale? Or how important (OFF-MIKE)

ATKINSON: No, we have people actively searching for that car.

QUESTION: Why haven't you made that sort of a broadcast issue (OFF-MIKE)

ATKINSON: Well, the first thing is, is that came to our attention yesterday. And then it was late last night that we -- what we wanted to do is see if we could follow up on it first, so not as to frighten anyone away if they heard their license plate number announced on the news.

As we got into it further and found out that we did not have a correct license plate, that we were not able to tie it to a specific person, at that point we then felt it was OK to go ahead and ask for help from the media and from the public.


ATKINSON: We have no indication whether he's here or gone, or anything to that nature.

QUESTION: Captain, when you say the license plate didn't come up, did it just not come up on file, or is it a bogus license plate?

ATKINSON: It doesn't appear to be a real license plate. We've searched all kinds of different combinations and that kind of thing, and nothing with that kind of license plate comes back to be either a Honda or a Nissan.

QUESTION: Captain, how long will the search of Emigration Canyon continue?

ATKINSON: The search is being conducted by the county sheriff's office, and we'll leave it to their discretion as to how long it goes.

QUESTION: So 48 hours-plus into this investigation, how would you characterize the mood of the investigation and the investigators now? Still optimistic, or...

ATKINSON: I would say that we're still very optimistic at this point in the investigation. Although, again, as you're all aware, the longer that we go without finding her, it becomes problematic.

I think that there's some frustration on the part of the investigators just because of the volume of information that we have, the leads that need to be followed up on. Those kinds of things that -- as investigators, we like to get some piece of information that leads up to another piece of information, that leads us to more, and kind of builds. At this point we're not finding any information that's building us towards any particular suspect. And that's frustrating for investigators.


QUESTION: Follow up, then, the misinformation -- when misinformation is put out there, does it cause more frustration for the investigation?

ATKINSON: Well, I guess it's not misinformation being put out. But if we receive this information, the thing about it is that the investigators aren't looking to the news and listening to that kind of thing. They're just taking the information they get. And they're so busy following up on that information that they're not -- again, 40 or 50-plus detectives aren't sharing that information, necessarily, with each other.

QUESTION: At this point (OFF-MIKE) resources were dedicated to that particular (OFF-MIKE) Emigration Canyon (OFF-MIKE)

ATKINSON: Well, the county sheriff used whatever resources they thought they needed. I don't believe that we would have dedicated other resources there at the time. I believe that the county sheriff decided that they needed that number of resources to work that problem.

Mostly what we're doing with our resources is putting them into investigation. Those resources were not pulled from our investigation and placed into that particular role. That was taken out of the sheriff's office patrol resources. QUESTION: You mentioned the 40 to 50 detectives. How many detectives and officers are dedicated solely to the (OFF-MIKE)

ATKINSON: I really don't have a complete number. I -- 40 to 50 at this time.


ATKINSON: Most of them are detectives working -- both the FBI, our detectives and detectives from the surrounding area. Most of our uniform people are not actively involved in searches or those kinds of things. They're doing the regular kind of patrol stuff. Most now -- most of the focus is on following up on those leads.

QUESTION: Are you concerned about possible bad weather this weekend hampering the investigation?

ATKINSON: Well, the bad weather -- again, we believe that we have searched the areas that we need to search. And so the weather really won't have an impact on us following up on leads. It may have an impact on where this -- where these people might be, where they're hiding, where she might be, that kind of thing.

But in order for -- we're not doing any active searching, so it wouldn't affect us that way.

QUESTION: Aside from what has happened at Emigration Canyon, which may or may not be something, has there been anything else that the volunteer searchers have provided you that have been good, solid leads, do you think?

ATKINSON: No, I don't believe that we've gotten any leads that we could call really solid. Any at all.

QUESTION: So after three days of searching (OFF-MIKE) no solid leads pointing anywhere. Is that (OFF-MIKE) or is that typical for a case like this?

ATKINSON: Well, again, what we focus on is leads. And as we run up against dead ends, that's frustrating. And so to not have those kinds of things, especially -- and I don't know that it points to anything. We're just not able to find any evidence that would lead us anywhere.


ATKINSON: No, I don't think it's unusual.

QUESTION: Captain, all the contractors who were in the house (OFF-MIKE) market, are all those contractors and subcontractors, are they all being interviewed?

ATKINSON: Yes, all the subcontractors and contractors are being contacted and spoken with.

QUESTION: What about the people... KAGAN: We've been listening to Captain Scott Atkinson of the Salt Lake City Police Department, and the latest on the search for Elizabeth Smart, the 14-year-old who was allegedly snatched at gunpoint from her own bedroom earlier this week.

No new leads, although new tips do continue to come in. We also heard from the uncle -- from her uncle, Tom Smart, letting us know how the family is doing. Earlier today the father, Ed Smart, was suffering from exhaustion and had to be taken to hospital. But apparently he is going to be OK.

But, of course, nothing will make this father feel any better than new news on the whereabouts of his 14-year-old daughter. Still no concrete leads on the whereabouts of Elizabeth Smart.




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