Kelsey Dean has never met Elizabeth Smart. She doesn't know the Smart family. She hadn't heard Elizabeth's name before June 5.
Yet Kelsey has joined the thousands who have formed a volunteer army to search for Elizabeth, a 14-year-old LDS young woman who was recently kidnapped at gunpoint from her Salt Lake City home during the early hours of June 5. As of Church News press time, Elizabeth was still missing.
"If it were my little sister I'd want someone out looking for her," said Kelsey, 18, of the Glenmoor 10th Ward, South Jordan Utah Glenmoor Stake. "I wanted to help out."
Kelsey's concern for the Smarts reflects the feelings of many living throughout the western United States who have given their time, money and prayers in hopes that Elizabeth will return safely to her family. Folks from Elizabeth's ward and school, friends of the Smart family, full-time missionaries and strangers such as Kelsey have come together in recent days to form a massive, organized search party intent on finding Elizabeth.
Many volunteers say they are horrified by the circumstances of Elizabeth's abduction. Police say a man broke into the Smart home on June 5, entered Elizabeth's bedroom and kidnapped the girl in front of her 9-year-old sister. The crime's brazen nature shocked and angered many. They jumped at their chance to help and reported for duty at command centers near the Smart home.
The search for Elizabeth, a member of the Arlington Hills Ward, Salt Lake Emigration Stake, has been extensive. Some volunteers have combed the mountains near the Smart home for clues. Others have posted "Missing" fliers by the thousands in malls, grocery stores, restaurants, hair salons, medical offices and other establishments. Many have canvassed Salt Lake-area neighborhoods, asking residents to keep an eye out for Elizabeth or anything suspicious. University of Utah football players were enlisted to haul food and water donated to feed and refresh volunteer teams. Pizza delivery businesses taped fliers to the tops of pizza boxes and several businesses contributed snacks, sodas and sunblock to sustain the volunteer effort.
Other volunteers have jumped atop motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles, combing the remote corners of the Utah's West Desert between Salt Lake City and the Nevada border. And hundreds have tied baby-blue ribbons — Elizabeth's favorite color — around their vehicle antennas as symbols of hope.
News of the kidnapping stretched far beyond Utah. Photos of Elizabeth have been part of lead stories on network television news programs. National newspapers such as USA TODAY have also filed daily updates on the search. During a June 11 visit to Salt Lake City, U.S. first lady Laura Bush said all Americans are praying for Elizabeth's safe return. Local police and federal law officers continue to follow thousands of tips, although, at press time, there were no identified suspects or motive, and no sign of Elizabeth.
"It's a massive volunteer effort that speaks so highly of the Salt Lake City community," said Dawn Davis of the Laura Recovery Center foundation, a Texas-based organization that helps communities organize searches for abducted and missing children.
Ms. Davis, who traveled to Salt Lake City upon learning of the kidnapping, said about 400 volunteers can typically be expected on a busy day during a search for a missing child. Yet as many as 2,000 people have shown up some days hoping to find Elizabeth.
She said she expected a willing response from Church members, adding members and full-time missionaries joined searches for missing children in other parts of the country.
The crime has devastated the Smart family who call Elizabeth an intelligent, athletic girl and gifted harpist. Yet they are touched by the support shown by the thousands of volunteers. Elizabeth's uncle, David Smart, said volunteers have come with "tears in their eyes and prayers in their hearts" offering to help.
"It chokes me up every time I see the [volunteer] groups preparing to go out," David Smart said.
Lynn Godfrey, Elizabeth's neighbor and family friend, said everyone from Elizabeth's ward has pitched in — and added that people from all faiths and backgrounds have also offered much-needed time and prayers.
"The love from total strangers all over Utah has been overwhelming," said Sister Godfrey, who has helped organize the volunteers into search teams at the command centers.
Josh Dustin traveled to the search command center in Salt Lake City from Logan, Utah, to volunteer. He's never met the Smarts — "I just heard they needed help." The father of a young child, he said his wife was watching their baby so he could search as long as he was needed.
Brock Extrum and his wife, Christy, were waiting to receive their volunteer assignments when Brother Extrum, who has six children of his own, summarized his reason for giving his time to find Elizabeth: "I would never give up hope, and I hope others would not."
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