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Getting Back Her Life

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Had it been any other teenager, surely no one would have noticed. But this was Elizabeth Smart, out for dinner with her parents and five siblings at P.F. Chang’s in Salt Lake City. In the middle of the family’s festive meal, Elizabeth left the table to use the rest room—by herself. “It seemed kind of strange,” says a diner at the Chinese restaurant that night in May. “With all she’s been through, you would think somebody would go with her.”

Had it been any other teenager, such concerns would never arise. But this is Elizabeth Smart, the girl everyone wants to feel is forever safe and sound. It has been 14 months since Elizabeth, 15, was taken from her bedroom by a deranged drifter and 5 months since police rescued her on a street in nearby Sandy, Utah. In that time she has rarely appeared in public and not once spoken to the press. Despite reports in the tabloids that she is beset by nightmares, it appears her summer is passing much as her loved ones hoped it would—happily, uneventfully. Surrounded by friends and relatives who zealously guard her privacy, she is, says her father, recovering from her ordeal. “She’s doing so well that it’s hard to believe that she went through so much,” Ed Smart told the Deseret Morning News in June. Much like any girl her age, he added, “she’s dying to drive.”

The Smarts must decide how much freedom to allow their daughter while at the same time shielding her from a curious public and supporting her through her recovery. According to prosecutors, Elizabeth was sexually assaulted by her kidnappers Brian David Mitchell, 49, and Wanda Barzee, 57 (see box). In March her parents said they had no plans to rush her into therapy; nor do they question her about the kidnapping. “When she wants to talk about it,” Ed Smart said in June, “Elizabeth and [her mother] Lois are very close and they’ll talk.” In many ways Elizabeth has picked up right where she left off: She goes shopping with her mother, regularly attends church services and often goes jogging with her friends—but never alone.

In her few public appearances, she has seemed remarkably poised. Six weeks after her rescue, she joined her parents at a White House ceremony marking the passage of the Amber Alert law. She spent time with Donna Norris, whose murdered daughter inspired the nationwide alert system. “She was so concerned about Amber; it brought tears to my eyes,” says Norris. Later that day she accompanied her folks to a taping of The John Walsh Show. “The next thing I know, she said, ‘I would like to play the harp at the closing of your show,'” recalls Walsh, who grew close to the Smarts after repeatedly featuring the case on America’s Most Wanted. “She was terrific.” After the trip to Washington, the Smarts stopped by Juilliard, the prestigious school of music in Manhattan. Elizabeth—now catching up on schoolwork with a correspondence tutor so she can rejoin classmates as a sophomore at Salt Lake’s East High School on Aug. 26—has told friends she’d like to continue her harp studies at Juilliard.

But first there will be the inevitable book and movie (her parents are finalizing the deals) and, most likely, the trial of her kidnappers. The Smarts don’t want her to testify, but should she be called to the stand, those who know her say she will do just fine. Not long ago she and her mother went shopping at a Salt Lake jewelry store. Clad in sandals and denim clam-diggers, Elizabeth poked around a bin to find a new lucky charm for her bracelet—and looked for all the world like just another teenager. “Some kids come through this better than others, and she’s doing better than anybody I’m aware of,” says John Walsh. “She has an extended family who never gave up looking for her and who are nurturing her now.”

Alex Tresniowski

Cathy Free in Salt Lake City, Vickie Bane in Denver and Susan Schneider Simison in Washington, D.C.