Elizabeth Smart, the 15-year-old girl whose disappearance shocked the country after she was taken at gunpoint from her Salt Lake City bedroom nine months ago, has been found alive.
The teen was discovered inside the car of a drifter who was pulled over by police Wednesday afternoon in Sandy, Utah, a suburb outside Salt Lake City, the Associated Press reports.
“Miracles do exist,” Elizabeth’s uncle, Tom Smart, tells AP.
Last month, Smart’s family announced a new reward in exchange for information about Elizabeth’s whereabouts, and also released a sketch of a handyman known only as “Emanuel.”
“Two separate women called in and said they thought they had spotted ‘Emanuel'” with the teen, Sandy police spokeswoman Michelle Burnette tells AP.
The suspect (real name: Brian David Mitchell) had done work on the Smarts’ home. Another possible suspect, Richard Albert Ricci, who also had worked on their home, died following a cerebral hemorrhage while serving time in prison for a parole violation, AP reports. He denied involvement in the kidnapping, and was never charged.
Because Elizabeth was successfully abducted from the Smarts’ 6,675-sq.-ft. house, investigators looked into contractors who had worked for the Smarts and others familiar with the home. “To get in and out the way he did, (the suspect) had to know the layout,” Lou Bertram, a retired FBI agent who has worked on several abduction cases, told PEOPLE in June.
Mitchell and another woman who was in the car with him, Wanda Eileen Barzee, remain in police custody; Elizabeth was taken to a Salt Lake City police station and later reunited with her family.
Smart’s kidnapping was just one in a string of abductions that grabbed national attention last year, including those of Oregon teenagers Ashley Pond and Miranda Gaddis (see PEOPLE’s June 2002 cover story), 7-year-old Danielle van Dam of San Diego and 5-year-old Samantha Runnion of Orange County, Calif. All four girls were later found dead.