Happy Ending Is A Photo Finish

The Early Show, Harry Smith talks to photographer is Tom Smart
CBS/The Early Show
From the day after Elizabeth Smart disappeared, photographs have played an important part in her case, reports Early Show Co-Anchor Harry Smith.

Her uncle, Tom Smart, has been a photographer for the Deseret News for more than 20 years - a fact that worked to Elizabeth's advantage, as the family made use of the media and the power of the printed image.

The family papered the country with Elizabeth's photograph when she was missing, and once her little sister, Mary Katherine, identified "Emmanuel" (Brian Mitchell) as a prime suspect, the family saw to it that his picture was well publicized.

And because his photo was featured on "America's Most Wanted," among other media outlets, he was recognized Wednesday as he walked with two veiled women -- one of whom turned out to be Elizabeth Smart.

Now that Elizabeth is home, her family also was quick to share photos of her return.

"We knew that she wasn't going to be able to come down for awhile," Tom Smart told Harry Smith. "And I…knew pictures were so important to get out early," he told Smith. "We wanted to get pictures out now so people can see. Hopefully, those pictures convey she's going to be OK."

There is one photo of Elizabeth with her grandmother that was taken as her grandparents came through the door. And the photo of her with her grandfather reflects how they are close friends who go horseback riding together.

Smith observed that Tom Smart was there as her uncle, but also as one who is documenting the event.

"And basically I just step back from one to the other, and that was, you know, that was important to be a journalist. And we tried to get this out all over the world so people could see that," explains the photographer.

When Tom Smart asked Elizabeth's father about the possibility of taking the photos, recalls the photographer, "He said, 'I think it's great, but you're going to have to talk to Lois" (Elizabeth's mother), who said: "Well, you know, Tom, we want to get her some new clothes." To that, Tom recalled saying, "Lois, she looks beautiful and the world wants to see this little girl."

And Lois looked at Tom and said, "Whatever you want."

To Tom Smart, his sister-in-law seems good and strong.

He added, "I think right now she's probably doing very well compared to Ed (her husband). Ed really extended himself yesterday, and I think they're probably going to go away for a day or two. I don't think he's had any sleep or anything. I don't think he could sleep. But, you know, this whole family is just so elated about what's going on and that we have her back."

Tom Smart appeared at the police chief's news conference briefly, trying to tamp down some of the criticism of the police department. Smith pointed out that the police department seems reluctant to even admit that they made a mistake. It was the Smart family that was pressing them to look for "Emmanuel."

"That's true," said Tom Smart. "And yet, you know, we've had them come up to us and say, 'You know, we've made a mistake. We wish we could have done it differently. I've never been so glad to be so wrong.' You know. I give them credit for that."

He added that the family is not pointing fingers at anyone.

"We were very much a part of the investigation," he explains, "because we felt like nobody had the sense of immediacy as the family. And we really felt strongly about some things, and you know, it's frustrating and there were hard times… I don't think generally (the authorities) like to have family involved with the investigation, other than just tell them what you did, but don't go investigate. I think that that's pretty standard in police departments. And that's not very standard in our family."

As the story of Elizabeth's bizarre captivity continues to unfold, it appears – at least in part – to be a story of missed opportunities.

But the rest of her family seems to agree that what may have gone wrong in the search is far overshadowed by the happy ending. Her aunts, Angela Smart and Cynthia Smart-Owens, and her uncle David also spoke with Early Show Co-Anchor Smith Friday morning.

"She's doing great, with all of the cousins surrounding her," said David Smart. "She had her hair cut and styled. She just had this great big huge smile on her face the whole time."

Added her aunt Cynthia, "She looks happy. I think she's just trying to kind of find out where she fits in now and adjust to everything. She looks very happy and a little overwhelmed."

And her aunt Angela observed, "I think as we all had the experience of holding her and touching her and saying, 'This is really Elizabeth. She's here.' Just kind of that deep emotion of, 'We want you to know we are here for you now. Not the Elizabeth that was, not the Elizabeth that will be but the Elizabeth that's here now,' and how much we love her, and how grateful we are to have her here."

Cynthia also said, "We wish we would've found her sooner. You know, the family really believed in Mary Katherine, that she was always consistent. We felt like it was really inspired that she could possibly come up with this name."

Is there anger?

"You know, it all blends in," Cynthia replied, with a laugh. "Impatience, whatever, we know that they were trying to do their best, but there are different reasons why people do and don't do things, and we wish it would've been sooner but we are grateful to have her."