One of Elizabeth Smart’s kidnappers now lives in an apartment not too far away from an elementary school, sparking outrage and concern, not only from Smart, but from local parents and community members as well.
Wanda Barzee, 73, was released from prison in September after serving 15 years behind bars. She and her husband, Brian David Mitchell, kidnapped Smart, then only 14 years old, from her family’s home in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2002. The couple held Smart captive for nine months, during which time Mitchell repeatedly raped her, before she was found and rescued. Barzee “abused me as much as [Mitchell] did,” and often encouraged her husband to sexually assault her, Smart said earlier this year.
While Mitchell continues to serve out a life sentence, Utah’s sex offender registry reveals that Barzee now lives in an apartment building in Salt Lake City, mere blocks away from an elementary school, the Associated Press reports. Barzee transitioned to the apartment after being placed in a halfway house following her initial release, according to the outlet.
Smart, now a child safety advocate and a married mother of three, reacted to news of Barzee’s living situation in a statement obtained by the Associated Press.
“Every possible caution and protection should be taken when it comes to protecting our children,” Smart said. “Whether a person is deemed a current threat or if they have a history of child abuse, neglect, sexual violence, etc., prudent measures should be taken, including housing them as far away as possible from schools, families and community centers.”
Smart’s concerns echo that of other parents and community members, according to KSL-TV, a Salt Lake City news outlet. Barzee’s new residence is a seven-minute walk from the nearby Parkview Elementary School, the station reports.
“It’s hard as a community to feel like you’re safe, and then you’re not all of a sudden,” Ellis Colvin, a local parent, told KSL-TV. “And now that’s kind of what I’m feeling here.”
Barzee was released on Sept. 19, five years earlier than her expected release, after Utah’s parole board concluded that they’d miscalculated the amount of time she’d previously spent in federal custody, according to the Associated Press.
Before her release, Barzee skipped a parole hearing, and refused to be evaluated by mental health professionals — a common requirement for inmates seeking parole. After learning that Barzee was due to be released, Smart, 31, called the decision “incomprehensible,” according to the Associated Press.
“It is incomprehensible how someone who has not cooperated with her mental health evaluations or risk assessments and someone who did not show up to her own parole hearing can be released into our community,” she said.
[Photo: Getty Images]
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