From the search headquarters for kidnapped teenager Elizabeth Smart, I looked out across the Salt Lake Valley June 8 and — with thousands of others — said a silent prayer.
I hadn't slept well since first learning of Elizabeth's disappearance three days earlier. Like thousands of other Church and community members, I found myself drawn to the search headquarters, wanting to help a young woman I had never met.
We were mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles. We were there to search for Elizabeth, thinking of the Elizabeths in each of our lives.
"I don't know of one mother who hasn't been affected by this," one volunteer explained. "It could have happened to my daughter. It could have been my home."
Directed by volunteers with the Laura Recovery Center who coordinated the search, we received training and then our assignments. Dozens left to search nearby mountain ranges and other rural areas. I was assigned with eight others to search an area near Salt Lake City's downtown.
We distributed fliers, knocking on the doors of homes and apartments. We looked in garbage cans, bushes and parking lots. Then we asked everyone we saw to do the same.
We didn't talk much; the volunteers in my group never even exchanged full names.
I worked as fast as I could, feeling an urgency to cover as much ground as possible. My two searching partners, both returned missionaries, were thorough — climbing into dumpsters and prying open garbage bags with sticks. They yelled down storm drains. They borrowed tape from a local business and hung fliers. They knocked on doors with the determination of the most tenacious missionary.
"We can't miss anything," one told me.
Then, when we had searched as long as possible, we returned to headquarters — tired, sunburned and disappointed to learn that the other groups also had not been successful.
I had hoped that searching for Elizabeth would fill the void I felt since her disappearance, but it didn't.
As I drove away, I looked back. Ribbons (all light blue, Elizabeth's favorite color) decorated telephone poles and trees. Cars of searchers still lined the street. A huge banner read, "Pray for Elizabeth."
I thought about the people I had spent the day with, and the thousands of other volunteers. I thought of the little boys who gave me a blue ribbon for my car, about an older woman who left with a search party even though she needed a cane to walk, and about the huge amounts of food and water donated by local businesses.
I thought about the Smart family (Elizabeth's uncle, Deseret News photographer Tom Smart, is one of my colleagues) and about the people I love. Then I thought about something a close friend said:
"It didn't happen to our families. It just feels like it did."
E-mail: [email protected]