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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Man Wanted for Questioning in Smart Abduction Case Caught

Aired June 21, 2002 - 14:54   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: More now on this breaking story. CNN has learned that Bret Michael Edmunds -- he's the man that Salt Lake City police have been looking for to question the disappearance of 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart.

Well, apparently, Bret Michael Edmunds has been captured. He's is in a hospital in Martinsburg, West Virginia, which is a couple hours outside of the Washington, D.C. area. He apparently has been checked in at that hospital for an apparent heroin overdose. That's the information that CNN Has been able to get at this hour.

Of course, we're still trying to find any more information as to the details as to whether he willingly went to the hospital whether someone took him there, how he even got to West Virginia from Salt Lake City, since that is where the focus of the search for him has been now for the past two weeks since Elizabeth Smart has been reported missing.

Now, as you recall, of course, her 9-year-old sister, Mary Catherine, had said that a man came into the home, into the bedroom where Elizabeth Smart and Mary Catherine were, and abducted her big sister, 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart, at gunpoint.

Since then, police have been looking feverishly within the city of Salt Lake City, as well as statewide. And involving a nationwide search for the little girl. And the only other name that they had come up with was Bret Michael Edmunds -- not as a suspect, but as someone they wanted to question about the disappearance.

Well, now the search apparently has ended for Bret Michael Edmunds. He is in a hospital in Martinsburg, West Virginia, not far outside of Washington, D.C. Ed Lavandera is in Salt Lake City. And perhaps he's got a little bit of information from Salt Lake City. Ed, what do you have?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're working the phones here in Salt Lake City, Fredricka, trying to get as much information as we can on the capture of Bret Michael Edmunds. Actually, I don't know if capture is the right word at this point.

But Bret Michael Edmunds had been a fugitive from the law. He's been wanted here in Salt Lake City, Utah for a number of other charges. And originally last week there had been an effort to -- when Bret Michael Edmunds showed up at the vigil for Elizabeth Smart, that was held on a weekday a couple days after the abduction, he showed up, police say, at the vigil.

He wasn't apprehended at the time because police didn't want to make a scene there. At the time, they didn't know he might be wanted in connection with this particular crime. So they let him slide at that point, saying it wasn't worth creating the effort and the scene, at that point.

We've had a chance to speak briefly with his brother-in-law, who lives on the southern edge of Salt Lake City, Utah, who described -- his sister and brother-in-law hadn't seen him in the last five months here, according to them. We spoke with them yesterday. So a lot of details emerging from the family, that he's kind of always been considered a drifter here, and hasn't been in a lot of contact with his family. So a lot of questions.

And originally, when the "America's Most Wanted" show had done the show on this case, there had been sightings that had come in from Tennessee all the way to Seattle. So perhaps not a strange fact, now that Bret Michael Edmunds is found in West Virginia.

Some of those sightings have been pouring in from across the country. And as well as here in Utah, there have been a number of sightings in some of the neighborhoods, family members have told me today, in the last couple of weeks. So this is something that police have been chasing across the country for quite a while, now -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Fair to be begin assessing now why police were conspicuously absent from the press conference that took place just about an hour or two ago involving the family members. Perhaps Salt Lake City police knew something about Bret Michael Edmunds being at the hospital and didn't want to be probed any further about his whereabouts.

LAVANDERA: They told us yesterday they weren't going to be making any more appearances at the briefings. They told us that yesterday, and they said they wouldn't come out until there were any major announcements.

But they did say that as soon as something happened, they would come out and speak with the news media about what has happened. So I assume this is enough of a large enough development in this story that will help convince police to perhaps come out and describe some of the details surrounding this case, and how they were able to track down Bret Michael Edmunds.

I talked to one of Ed Smart's brothers, who told me that -- I had asked him if anyone in the family had seen Bret Michael Edmunds, if they knew him before all of this had even started. He told me that he had never seen him. And as far as he knew, no one else in his family had also seen him around the neighborhood, as well.

So this is something that perhaps -- I know the Smart family feels that a lot of the news media coverage, and how this has been portrayed and covered so widely across the country, and details of his description and his picture popping up on news media outlets across the country. I know the Smart family is probably convinced that that has gone a long way in helping police track Bret Michael Edmunds down in West Virginia -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Now, Ed, we're still waiting for information about Bret Michael Edmunds out in West Virginia. And while we're both of us are waiting for information to pour in on that, let's shift the focus now and talk a little bit more about the family.

Since the father, Ed Smart, appeared today for first time, at least that I can recall in the past two weeks, to really break down and be very tearful in his plea, for the captor of Elizabeth Smart to let her go. And that the family believes strongly that she is still alive and OK.

What did you gather from composure of the family members today, as opposed to previous days? Since you've been out there every day and been able to watch the behavior and the composure of the family members.

LAVANDERA: I found them to be a little more emotional than they have been most of this week, to be honest. Ed Smart saying that the emotion that's overcome him is become of the search effort that's taking place here in Utah. So many people, strangers, quite frankly, have come out to help this family.

If you drive through the neighborhood here, there are light blue balloons -- Elizabeth Smart's favorite color -- that have been put up all over the street, pictures of her. You can't go anywhere in Salt Lake City and not see a picture of Elizabeth Smart somewhere.

When we first drove in, there are huge billboards with her picture on it, and a reminder of the $250,000 reward for her safe return, that have been put up all over the city. You go to restaurants or stores across the -- across the city. Her picture is everywhere, and that is, they say they've organized about 10,000 people this weekend alone to help in the search efforts for Elizabeth Smart. And they say that that's part of just how emotional this has all been. Her Web site, elizabethsmart.com, has gotten 2 million hits ...

WHITFIELD: Wow.

LAVANDERA: ... since they were put -- they put it up there with new picture of her, information, and there's pockets of search groups that have organized throughout all these counties here, I think 23 counties in Utah that have organized search teams to go out and help search for Elizabeth Smart, urging people to take different routes to work, different -- going different jogging paths, as they do their daily routines in the hope that any kind of -- any kind of search -- someone might stumble across any kind of clue. I think that's what has overwhelmed them so much based on what they've been able to tell us.

WHITFIELD: All right. Ed Lavandera, don't go too far. You're in Salt Lake City. I'm going to come back to you, but first we want to bring in Geoff Shank, who's with the U.S. Marshal's Office out of Arlington, Virginia. He's on the telephone with us now. Geoff, can you hear me OK?

GEOFF SHANK, U.S. MARSHAL'S OFFICE: Yes.

WHITFIELD: OK, well what are the details as to how Bret Edmunds found himself in this Martinsburg, West Virginia hospital?

SHANK: We have it that on the 20th, he checked in to the hospital at approximately 5:15 a.m. under a bogus name. However, he provided a telephone number, which we realized was valid. Then using this information, we were able to trace it back and verify his identity. However, none of this would have been possible without a call from a source of information...

WHITFIELD: So he checked...

SHANK: ... who tipped us off.

WHITFIELD: ... he checked himself in. The information we've been able to gather implies that he had a heroin overdose and that's why he checked himself in. What can you tell us about that?

SHANK: It was actually lotrodine (ph) I believe, was the information that we were provided. And he was quite out of it at the time that he went to the hospital. He provided a name of Todd Richards initially, and also he provided his mother's true name, which along with the phone number and then the hospital personnel following up, you know, to verify hey, who indeed is this fellow is, reached out to the family.

WHITFIELD: Oh.

SHANK: And while all this going on, then we got a call from one of the folks, or source of information that we have spoken to in the last several days who tipped us off and said hey, we think the guy that you're looking for has checked himself into a hospital in Martinsburg, West Virginia.

WHITFIELD: Wow.

SHANK: And that's when we dispatched our deputies out to Martinsburg. Once they got there they were able to locate a suspect vehicle that we thought he was in, in the parking lot, and from there then they backtracked through the hospital admissions, utilizing the false information and nexusing (ph) it up with the telephone number to get a room number in the hospital.

WHITFIELD: So what kind of vehicle did he have parked out there that you believe was his?

SHANK: It was a green Saturn that I believe had been broadcast that he was in.

WHITFIELD: Right, the same vehicle that had been reported that he was last seen in. So since your contact now with him or since being notified by the hospital that that was indeed Bret Edmunds, what have you learned from him? What has he said? What has your conversation been like with him?

SHANK: Ma'am, we were asked by the Salt Lake City Police Department and the FBI to come into this thing to find Bret Michael Edmunds. We're not going to question him on the case. We find fugitives. We find people who are wanted in questioning in large cases like this. They asked us on Wednesday. Three days later, two and a half days later, we found him. Now we're going to turn him over to the authorities that began this thing so they can look into it a little further.

WHITFIELD: And so when are they likely to arrive there?

SHANK: As soon -- as soon as possible, I hope. We notified them immediately upon identifying that it was indeed Mr. Edmunds. We've secured the vehicle and obviously Mr. Edmunds himself. We've got deputy marshals there on the scene standing by. They may very well be arriving as we speak.

WHITFIELD: OK, so now it was 5:15 a.m. yesterday that he checked himself in under a bogus name, you said.

SHANK: Yes.

WHITFIELD: But then how much time elapsed before the West Virginia hospital authorities realized this person isn't really who he says he is and now let's bring in the police?

SHANK: He was in pretty bad shape from a medical standpoint from what we understand to the point where the drugs or what have you that he -- that he had he taken had caused his liver to crash or stop functioning. So I imagine it took quite awhile just not only to stabilize him, but then once they stabilized him, then they tried to find out exactly who he was because things were just a little haywire when he checked himself in.

That's when they reached out with the actual phone number that he provided. You know then as they questioned people, it came up hey, you know this indeed isn't Todd Richards, it's perhaps somebody else.

WHITFIELD: So, he's coherent now. He was able to give telephone numbers that were valid. You haven't and your authorities haven't talked with him because you say Salt Lake City police would rather be the ones to have some discussions with him, but no one has had any kind of dialogue with him at all?

SHANK: Ma'am, we will not discuss the case with him whatsoever. I can't vouch for exactly what the deputy marshals who are at the scene have said to him, if anything, but we are under strict instructions not to discuss the case whatsoever and I can tell you they're going to abide by that. When Mr. Edmunds, a.k.a. Mr. Richards, checked in, the only correct piece of information he gave was his phone number and a lot of fugitive cases are people who are running from the law.

Often times, you know, they may make a little slip like that and it was lucky for us, but I'm just glad the hospital staff, our deputies in Salt Lake City and in West Virginia who just did a fantastic job in figuring it all out as quickly as possible before he was able to somehow get himself out of that hospital. That's the big thing.

WHITFIELD: Yes. Now what condition does he appear to be in?

SHANK: He's stable at this time, but he can not be moved at this time. We do know that.

WHITFIELD: OK. And you mentioned the drug, sorry, I don't know all my drugs here, but you said lotrodine (ph).

SHANK: Yes, lotrodine. I'm not real familiar with what lotrodine is. We know that he had a heroin habit and that he was trying to actually score some heroin, but the actual admission papers or what have you said that he was on lotrodine, and that it had caused his liver to crash, almost complete liver failure is what you would call it, I would imagine.

WHITFIELD: OK. So, now in the time that's elapsed since you've figured out his true identity...

SHANK: Yes.

WHITFIELD: ... are there other people in that community who have emerged who said that, oh, yes, I've had contact with him or I had a conversation or saw him, anything...

SHANK: At this time...

WHITFIELD: ... before he checked himself in?

SHANK: ... there's no one else that we know of, no. We haven't -- we -- right now, we're just waiting to turn the individual over to the Salt Lake City police and the FBI.

WHITFIELD: OK. Now it had been said that because there were other apparent sightings of him that he had run out of money, that his credit cards weren't working. What do you know about, you know, his financial state, if you will? I mean, you know, did he have any money or did he have anything, in which to help him get checked in at the hospital?

SHANK: Ma'am, I have absolutely no information on that end whatsoever.

WHITFIELD: OK. And so when the phone call was made to perhaps the mother, since you had the mother's phone number, what if anything was learned from that conversation? Are you able to comment on that?

SHANK: All we know is that the hospital standard protocol reached out to the phone number that he provided and that the name that he checked in under did not correspond with the individual that they spoke to on the other end of that phone. Who that person was, we do not know.

WHITFIELD: OK. All right. Thank you very much...

SHANK: Sure.

WHITFIELD: ... Geoff Shank, appreciate it, from the U.S. Marshal's office. I'm sure we'll be calling upon you again. So don't go too far from your telephone. Appreciate it. Thanks for the help on that.

Well we've got Ed Lavandera out in Salt Lake City. Ed, you and I both learning an awful lot about how they were able to identify Bret Michael Edmunds at that West Virginia hospital. He apparently slipped up even though he checked in with - under one name, Todd Richards. He apparently gave the correct phone number of his own home as well as of his mother.

That correct telephone number from then on, you know, authorities were able to figure out exactly who he is. Now it appears according to that U.S. Marshals representative that Salt Lake City police are likely to be making their way out to Martinsburg, West Virginia. Are you getting any indication from your end that the wheels are in motion for that?

LAVANDERA: Well, we're still waiting on those particular details, but I can tell you in some of the information that the spokesperson was passing along to you, meshes pretty well with what we've been hearing from law enforcement sources here in Salt Lake City. One law enforcement official had described Bret Michael Edmunds as -- called him a doper.

Those were the law enforcement sources words and that remember I mentioned earlier that he had been wanted by police. He'd been -- he had some drug problems here and he was also wanted for fleeing from, wanted for being a fugitive perhaps, fleeing from police at some point. So and also in a conversation was -- with his brother-in-law and a brief moment with his sister yesterday.

They said they wouldn't speak directly about the drug issues, but they said that they had been concerned for him and because they hadn't seen him for five months. So, a lot of concern on that end perhaps stemming from the drug issue at this point, but one of the law enforcement officials we spoke to within the last few days had described Bret Michael Edmunds as a doper. That's a direct quote -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And, you know, interesting enough too, according to Geoff Shank with the U.S. Marshals office, it appears as though or definitively so that he had -- Edmunds had his same vehicle, that green Saturn that investigators had been looking for and somehow he's managed to get himself from Utah all the way to West Virginia without any positive, you know, sightings that have been reported from those two states.

LAVANDERA: And one of the -- one of the things that law enforcement sources had also told us is that they expected, they were perhaps a little bit confident that they still might be able to find Bret Michael Edmunds here in Utah because of his connections here and that he, I guess, a certain amount of comfort, feeling of comfort that Utah and Salt Lake City provided him and that going away from here might make things a little bit more difficult for him.

Perhaps at this point that might have been what has happened to Bret Michael Edmunds. But for the last couple days, we've been hearing that there were fairly strong leads that they were pursuing about Bret Michael Edmunds here in the state of Utah and it had a lot to do with just his feeling of comfort here in the state. But I'm sure Utah officials here making the work that's needed to be done now and going through the paperwork and the loopholes that need to be done to get Bret Michael Edmunds questioned. And, remember, all along, he's not a suspect in this case. What Utah police have been saying and investigators here have been saying they just want to question him.

They think that perhaps in some sort of way he might have been around this neighborhood the night of June 5 when Elizabeth Smart was abducted and they want to speak to him just to see if he has any information that might be able to help them out. And so it's important to remember that he's not a suspect, just someone that...

WHITFIELD: Right.

LAVANDERA: ... they wish to speak to very strongly.

WHITFIELD: And, Ed, you know, Salt Lake City police have to feel pretty good knowing that they distributed this photograph of Bret Michael Edmunds rather quickly and even though they made it very clear they want him for questioning, by distributing that photograph nationwide, that equipped these West Virginia officials to be in a position where they could quickly identify who he was, recognize him, follow-up on, and know how to respond accordingly.

LAVANDERA: That blanket coverage of his picture in the news media coverage has to help officials quite a bit. As I mentioned also the sightings. There have been so many sightings of him. There -- one -- remember last week, there was a sighting in west Texas that turned out not to be him, but nonetheless evidence enough that there are - there were people who were on their toes enough to be on the look out for him at any moment.

So police are urging -- that was one of the things that family members here spoke with too, that they wanted to speak today also and urge nationally not just people here in Utah, but on a - on a national level that anyone anywhere might be able to have some sort of information.

So I think this will kind of reinforce what the family had been saying all along that anywhere, anywhere, if anyone could - if they kept their eyes open and paying a little bit of attention that they might be able to help out in this case and proof enough that Bret Michael Edmunds was found in West Virginia. I think the family will say that that is what they've been trying to say all along.

WHITFIELD: Now, Ed, how far are you, the location where you are, which also happens to be the location of the regular press conferences, the one that we just saw a couple hours ago involving a family member. How far -- family members. How far is that location from their home? Do you expect that they might make their way back to that press conference location to address cameras or how might we be able to pursue them or their response to this?

LAVANDERA: We'll see. We have a family member -- we have a family member who's supposed -- come to meet us here shortly in, I think within the next hour or so, that the family member was supposed to come out and speak with us. I don't know how that might change. We're working out those details as well. But to give you the lay of the land, the building behind me, this is the church where the Smart family attends.

Just up directly behind us, about 500 yards, is a Shriners Hospital, children's hospital, and directly behind that church is where the Smart family lives. So this is a very small area. The Smart family can direct all the press briefings from down here. There's a lot more space here for the satellite trucks and news media that converges on these -- on these press briefings. But it's a very small area just right around the street here.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks Ed. So still haven't heard from them, but obviously they are in close proximity if they choose to want to comment on this latest development. Ed, don't go far away in Salt Lake City. We'll probably be coming back to you again shortly.

Now just about two hours ago, as Ed was just explaining, the family member did emerge in that very location where he is. And the father, Ed Smart, for the first time in about two weeks was very tearful and obviously very devastated about the search that now is going into the second and a half week for his 14-year old daughter. Let's listen in one more time to the words of Ed Smart.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ED SMART, FATHER OF KIDNAPPED GIRL: I would like to thank all those people who are out there praying for us, for all the effort that has gone forward to help bring Elizabeth back to us. I can't thank you enough for your prayers and would ask that you would continue to pray and please plead for her return.

I'm asking and I'm pleading with whoever has her that I would do anything to have her back in my arms and please realize how much she's missed. She's missed tremendously.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: That was Ed Smart, the father of the 14-year old, Elizabeth Smart, who's been missing now for two weeks. That press conference took place about two hours ago and now information is that Bret Michael Edmunds turned himself into a hospital under a - under the name of Todd Richards because he had apparently overdosed on a drug called lotrodine. He is known to have had a heroin habit.

He turned himself in a Martinsburg, West Virginia hospital, and there officials asked him what his name was, the name just didn't pan out, but he did, however, seem to give them a true home phone number, as well as the home phone number of his mother. And through some pretty good police work on the part of the hospital officials, they were able to determine that this was Bret Michael Edmunds.

Then they brought in authorities in that area, and now Bret Michael Edmunds is in custody. But however, although he has been on - or he has been on a list of the Salt Lake City police as someone they wanted to bring him, they only wanted to question him as it pertains to the disappearance of Elizabeth Smart, not necessarily because he is a suspect.

So, Bret Michael Edmunds is at a West Virginia hospital. He is apparently in stable condition after a drug overdose and now Salt Lake City police are likely to be heading their way to West Virginia because they tell the U.S. Marshals Office, as you heard here live on CNN that they want to be the ones to question him and they want to find out what it is that they've been wanting to learn about the disappearance of Elizabeth Smart and why he made his way from Salt Lake City onto West Virginia.

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