The emotional moment came almost nine months after the girl was abducted from her home in the middle of the night. The morning after Elizabeth was found, The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith was standing at the end of the Smarts' driveway in Utah and was the first to talk to her overjoyed father, Ed.
A year later, Ed and his wife, Lois, were in New York with their family and they say their daughter is healing.
"In a way, it's like she never was gone," Lois Smart says, "She was able to just come right back in and move on. And certainly she doesn't like to look back at what happened. But, let's go forward and get this behind us as far as we can go."
The high school sophomore is driving a car and has two part-time jobs, one of them to play and tune harps. Elizabeth has talked about possibly applying to New York's Juilliard School.
And like other 16-year-olds, she recently enjoyed going to the prom.
"For her, it was the best thing that had ever happened," Lois Smart says with a big smile,addng that it touched her heart to see her daughter in a prom gown. "She looked gorgeous. And she looks forward to many more proms and dating."
During the nine-month abduction, Lois Smart says, she hoped and prayed for Elizabeth to come home. But, she adds, "If you had asked me a year ago at this time, I would never have guessed that she would have come back alive."
And yet the family did everything in its power to keep the story alive. Ed Smart kept coming to the media with new information. He credits their extended family for keeping the hope alive. Plus, somehow, he says he always felt Elizabeth was still alive. "There were certainly impressions that I felt that she was out there, instincts," he says. "You kept hearing statistically, she's dead. But I kept on feeling that she was out there, somewhere. And that day was unbelievable."
And the miracle came.
On Wednesday, March 12, 2003, the Sandy Police stopped a man, woman and teenage girl just 20 miles from the Smart home. The girl proved to be Elizabeth.
And though Brian Mitchell, accused of Elizabeth's kidnapping, is still waiting for a competency hearing, Ed Smart says he and his family are in no rush. "We would certainly like to have it all over with," he says. "But when it comes, that will be fine. And giving Elizabeth time to, you know, get more and more normal."
Part of Elizabeth's normal life now is being recognized on the street. Asked if she gets tired of that, Ed Smart says his daughter would like to keep her anonymity. And yet he notes, "People have been very kind. And it's always: 'We prayed for you and we're just so happy to see this outcome.' And she is so grateful for the end result - that we're back together again."
Even after Elizabeth returned, the Smarts didn't turn their backs on the issue of keeping predators away from children. Ed and Lois Smart started "Partners in Safety," a coalition of several organizations dedicated to promoting safety through education.
Ed Smart explains, "It's an initiative we took with Girl Scouts of America, Girl Scouts of Utah. It's their 92nd birthday tomorrow. And so they approached us and we have created a coalition with law enforcement, with Kindervision, with radKIDS, and with the national center."
RadKIDS teaches self-defense tips and Kindervision is "a national child safety education program," explains its founder Doug Sebastian. "We provide families with free safety videos. We partnered with law enforcement to create the program that parents can use in their homes to help teach their children how to keep safe when they are not with them."
Sebastian is also a participant in the Partners In Safety coalition, and says there are things families can learn to prevent the unthinkable. Reflecting on Carlie Brucia's fatal abduction in Florida, which was caught on a surveillance tape, he says, "The bad news is these things happen. The good news is they are preventable. Education is the key to prevention. For 13 years throughout the country, we've been advancing this concept and this information to protect America's children."
Ed Smart's message is that children need to be safe. He says, "They need to have their childhood and enjoy that. But they need to be safe. And the only way that we can do that is by our communities coming together and creating this safety and reducing the risk. I think being able to avoid situations, knowing specifically that no adult should come and ask you for help. If they are coming and asking you for help, refer them to another adult, especially in those situations where they would come up, 'Can you help me find my little dog? Can you help me do something.'"
At the same time, he says, with all of that knowledge, who is to say when somebody is going to break a screen in your own home and invade what you think is the safest place in the world. So not everything can be prevented.