A child has been saved.
Or saved herself.
We don't know yet what happened, how Elizabeth Smart survived.
Her parents said they never gave up, but surely in their darkest moments they must have feared that their daughter was dead. There have been so many others. Brenda van Dam, mother of the slain San Diego second-grader Danielle van Dam, said, "Elizabeth and her family will have a wonderful second chance to live out their lives together."
The grandmother of Erica Baker, the Kettering girl who disappeared in 1999, told reporters, "Each of us in that situation takes a special joy from that."
Am I too late with my congratulations? After all, Elizabeth has been back with her family in Salt Lake City for a week. Is it time to stop celebrating and start insisting on all the grim details? The 15-year-old girl who was snatched from her bedroom at knifepoint more than nine months ago was found alive and apparently unharmed. Or not apparently harmed.
Which is not the same thing at all.
Salt Lake City Police Chief Rick Dinse said Elizabeth was "psychologically impacted by this abduction."
Ed Smart says he believes his daughter was brainwashed during the 280 days she was missing. "I have not tried to force things out of her, to question her to pieces," he said. "I don't have it in me to try and make this harder than it is for her. I don't know what kind of hell she went through."
Well, we don't either. But you can bet that somebody - or several somebodies - will compete for every sordid detail. Citing unnamed sources, NBC News says she was "married to" her accused kidnapper, forced into a "polygamist relationship" with her captor.
Talk radio vultures want to know if she was sexually abused. Katie Couric asks Elizabeth Smart's uncle, Chris Smart, delicately "if we know what kind of damage she suffered?" He declines to speculate.
Asked by another reporter whether Elizabeth stayed willingly with her captors, her uncle said, "We don't even want to go there. I don't know what she's been exposed to. She just said she couldn't speak out."
Ed Smart said, "I have no doubt that she did fear for her life that night as she left the room, not knowing what was going to happen to her." But she survived for nine months, living under bridges and in primitive camp sites. She has a good smile and is "apparently unharmed."
It's a good story, but it's a story that belongs to Elizabeth.
This child has lost so much already. It seems as though we might be able to grant her as much dignity and privacy as possible. Maybe we can temper our curiosity with a little compassion for once.
Police are questioning Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Ilene Barzee. Of course, the authorities need to know everything about this terrible crime, so they can pile every legitimate charge onto her abductors. And a jury will need the details.
But the rest of us don't.
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