April 28, 2004 09:00 AM

More than a year after being rescued from her kidnapping ordeal, Elizabeth Smart continues to heal, PEOPLE reports in its latest issue.

The 16-year-old is dating, playing the harp and looking radiant. “I’m so thankful,” Smart told a crowd of about 400 volunteers and searchers April 21 at a ceremony honoring those who looked for her after her 2002 abduction in Salt Lake City.

Since her return Elizabeth has gone on her first date, to her school’s Christmas prom in December, PEOPLE reports.

“Believe me,” says her father, Ed, “I almost do a background check (on her dates).”

As for her kidnappers, they remain in custody pending resolution of competency issues.

Last January, Wanda Barzee, 58, who was arrested in the case along with husband Brian David Mitchell, was ruled incompetent to stand trial and committed to a mental hospital. If eventually found competent, Barzee – who has said she does not believe she is mentally ill in the “eyes of the Lord,” despite one court-appointed doctor’s diagnosing her as paranoid schizophrenic – could one day face a trial.

Barzee and self-styled prophet Mitchell, 50, are charged with aggravated kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault and aggravated burglary in the 2002 abduction of Elizabeth, then 14, from her Salt Lake City home.

The homeless couple allegedly kept Elizabeth as Mitchell’s second wife for nine months in Utah and California (keeping her tethered at one point, according to reports).

Barzee and Mitchell were also charged in the attempted abduction of Elizabeth’s 18-year-old cousin weeks after Elizabeth was taken.

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