Thursday, March 13, 2003

Elizabeth Smart Comes Home

Thank goodness that the all news stations have an excuse to flog another story besides the all-Iraq coverage that we have been subjected to lately. In this house there is always an all news station going in the background, and the need that these stations have to fill the airwaves with something--anything -- at all times begins to grate on the nerves when they feel the need to flog a story, like the Iraq story, when there is nothing to report. Now, finally, a distraction from the beating of the war drums. Elizabeth Smart has come home.

In the broad sceme of things, the Elizabeth Smart story has never been much of a story, just another teenage girl who disappeared. She started the summer of the kidnapped children last summer, when the news gods conspired to give us unremitting coverage of a few disappeared girls. Elizabeth Smart was the first, and the cutest, so we heard the most about her. Since she was a pretty Mormon girl, a bit out of the usual, with such an attractive family, combined with the dearth of other fodder for the news channels last summer, made for a particularly intense bout of coverage. A couple of murdered pre-teens later, the summer of the kidnapped children was well under way.

I don't mean to sound insensitive, but this story never seemed that important to me. To the Smart family, sure, but not to me. But in the voyueristic world in which the Smarts contrived to put this story, the lens of public scrutiny, once focused, does not go away so easily. We can now expect to be served a plethora of details about what happened during the last nine months, and the ecstasy of the discovery shall soon, I fear, turn into a horror show. Now we will get to find out what really happened. It may not be a pretty sight. The biggest question is: what was she doing, in disguise, panhandling on the street a few miles from her home?

Of course, all the parasites will come forward, trying to use this family's anguish to push their own agenda. Advocates for missing and kidnapped children, the homeless, the insane, will all be trying to get a piece of the spotlight that is now casting its illumination on this set of events. But this story, so far, doesn't seem to fit easily into one of the categories that these stories usually fall into. Is she a runaway? Is she suffering from Stockholm/ Patty Hearst syndrome? We shall see. Or maybe not. But one thing is sure: we will be hearing A LOT more than we need, or want to hear.

And what about the police? Recently the Smart family has been frustrated by the police dragging their heels over the case, doing their usual cop thing of, once a prime suspect has been identified, failing to look further. In their defense, the police said thad that if they had settled on this Ricci character as the perpetrator, they would have closed the case when he died in custody. But that does not answer the observation that the girl was camping out practically in her back yard right after the disappearance, and was found in her neighborhood not by the police, but by a pair of concerned citizens.

Still, I've got to give a lot of credit to the Smart family. I criticized them for putting their business in the street and airing their laundry in public, but it was that very willingness to keep this story in the public milieu that made the recovery of the girl possible. I was too willing to write the girl off, but the Smarts never faltered in their belief that their little girl was alive, somewhere, in God's protection. According to the Washington Post:
The overwhelming majority of children abducted by strangers eventually return home safely, experts say, though very few are held as long as the nine-month ordeal of Elizabeth Smart.

About 4,600 children are abducted each year by strangers, according to Ann Scofield of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. But she said most are held only briefly before being freed.

Only 100 or so abductions by strangers each year fit into more serious categories - cases in which the child is held for an extended period of time or is killed, she said.
Now they tell us. Until last night, all the reports I read told a story of the bleak fact that, if the girl was not found within 72 hours, she was in all probability dead. Isn't it funny how the coverage changes to fit the facts, as they are revealed.