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CNN SATURDAY

Interview with Bob Smither

Aired June 15, 2002 - 18:05   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CATHERINE CALLAWAY, CNN ANCHOR: After several out-of-state leads that led nowhere, Utah police are shifting their search for missing teenager Elizabeth Smart. They're asking people to think about looking in places where they haven't looked before.

Let's get the latest now from CNN's Michael Okwu who is joining us from Salt Lake City. Michael, what is the latest?

MICHAEL OKWU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Catherine, you know it struck me that when a visitor comes to Salt Lake City, you're immediately struck by the great expanse of land, by the great Salt Lake itself. And also by the beautiful mountains that seem to envelop the entire city. But that site becomes a very haunting if not daunting site when you think about searching for a 14-year-old missing girl.

And, of course, that's exactly what's happening today. Phase two in this search effort essentially began this morning and volunteers shifted from a centralized effort to one relying on local community groups and organizations.

Now, the Smart family is asking for individuals to essentially check in abandoned barns and to look in henhouses and doghouses. Along mountain trails. The idea, of course, is that local individuals from the community groups know that community better than outsiders.

To date, about 8500 volunteers have offered their services. The Smart family said that they have been deluged with phone calls of people who want to continue offering their services. But, from what we have seen this morning, it is unclear whether or not they will attract as many numbers as they did during Phase One of this effort.

We spoke to Ed Smart, Elizabeth's father, this morning and he said that he was very optimistic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ED SMART: I have this inner peace today, where I don't know if she's coming today or what's happening. I know that the police are doing everything that they possibly can to help this go forward, and I want them to know how much I appreciate them. I just -- I just think they're wonderful. The FBI and all of those who are in this together. But I feel very strongly that things are moving in the right direction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OKWU: Now, Catherine, in the meantime the search for Bret Michael Edmund continues. He is a drifter who police continue to say at this point is still not a suspect.

Catherine.

CALLAWAY: All right, thank you -- that's CNN's Michael Okwu in Salt Lake City. Thanks, Michael.

Searching for a missing child is a complicated process for family's struggling with the pain of their loss.

When Bob Smither's daughter Laura was abducted and murdered back in 1997, he and his wife founded the Laura Recovery Center, which helps families search for their missing children. And, that group helped organize the volunteer search for Elizabeth Smart. He joins us this afternoon from Houston.

Thank you for being with us, sir.

BOB SMITHER, FOUNDER OF LAURA RECOVERY CENTER: Certainly.

CALLAWAY: An amazing response in the search for Elizabeth. I know you were behind -- your organization -- and you were behind a lot of that. Were you surprised, at all, at the great numbers of people that turned out? There were -- they were there in the thousands, every single day.

SMITHER: They were, and it was an amazing response on the part of the Salt Lake City community. You know, when we have several hundred searchers in a day, this sis good, 2000 is, in our experience, certainly unprecedented and it was -- I know it was a great support to the Smart family during this horrible time.

CALLAWAY: Now, Bob -- I know that you and your organization have set about setting up guidelines and tips, if you will, on how to go about performing a search like this. That you learned through what was done when your daughter, Laura, was missing. What was it like to see all of those in place during this search? It seemed to help, tremendously in this case.

SMITHER: We started the foundation to try to address the need to rapidly respond to a missing child. And, one of the tools that is -- that we use -- is the Laura Recovery Center manual, which was written by the volunteers that searched for Laura. It's just a cookbook set of procedures, lessons learned -- manual, if you will -- and the whole objective is to get a community up and organized and get searchers out on the ground just as quickly as possible.

CALLAWAY: What is -- Elizabeth's -- family going through now with the change in the search, right now? Essentially, part of it being called off and taking a different direction. This has to be a difficult time.

SMITHER: I'm sure it is. The number of searchers, though, allowed the ground search to proceed very rapidly and they have covered thousands of square miles. So, there's a lot of area where they now know that Elizabeth is not. And, I think that at this point that the decision to shut down the ground search is probably reasonable. And, to shift it to a different focus.

CALLAWAY: Is hope fading now? It's been more than ten days.

SMITHERS: Time is certainly of concern, but you never give up hope. Abducted children do come back alive. And we certainly will continue to hope and pray that that's the case with Elizabeth.

CALLAWAY: What will be the next step in this search? What will be done now?

SMITHER: The search is really being coordinated now with the volunteers that are there in Salt Lake City. It's my understanding that they are going to try large billboards, and other sort of public awareness type attempts. Try to get people to look on their own property. That sort of effort.

CALLAWAY: What led to the discovery of your daughter, Laura?

SMITHER: A gentleman and his son training their dog came upon Laura's remains.

CALLAWAY: Some of it is -- it's just luck, then, isn't it? In getting the clues and finding what you need in this type of thing, isn't it?

SMITHER: That's exactly right. It's a needle in a haystack, and of course, the more resources you can get out there looking as quickly as possible, the better your chances are. It's strictly a numbers game, and to some extent you count on luck, you count on a break.

CALLAWAY: Bob, there's not a family out there that has children who's heart is not breaking with this story of Elizabeth, and the story of Laura. What can people do at this point to help Elizabeth's family?

SMITHER: Just continue -- I think the volunteer effort is probably the best way to minister to her family. I know when my Laura was missing, the fact that people cared and put their own lives on hold to search for her, just meant everything in the world to us.

CALLAWAY: Well Mr. Smither -- Bob Smither -- I can't thank you enough for what you have done as a parent. I know it's nice to know that there are people out there who turn a tragedy into a helpful situation for others. And, good luck to you.

SMITHER: Thank you.

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