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Sister of Elizabeth Smart is Prime Witness

Aired June 19, 2002 - 13:13   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Now we're going to take you to another story that we've been following, as you know, for a couple of weeks. And that is the disappearance of 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart.

We're going to take you back to Salt Lake City now where the police chief, Rick Dinse, is giving us a news conference.


RICK DINSE, SALT LAKE CITY POLICE: ... to the first responders at the scene. They had not talked to Mary Catherine. They did not have the specific information from her. But they did have specific information that they thought it was important to get out. And there were a lot of things going on at that time in order to ensure that we got the information as broadly publicized as possible.

So yes, some information went out. It was not accurate at the time. We thought it was, or the people who were providing it thought it was. We know now that it isn't. We have evaluated that information, compared it to the investigation, and we decided that it could be clarified. And that's why we had yesterday.

There is no conspiracy, if you will, afoot here to keep information from the media that we think -- or doesn't have any cause to direct the investigation. We are not telling you everything. And you should know that. And if you haven't figured that out by now -- that's the truth. We aren't telling you everything, and we probably aren't going to until we are further along and have identified some people.

But we can discuss some of the things. Now, we'll -- Dan Roberts from the FBI is here with me and we will take some questions for a while. Now, we're not going to be here all day. But we'll will take a few questions.

QUESTION: Chief, why did you wait so long to clarify this information?

DINSE: Well, you know, first of all, we had to talk to Mary Catherine -- and we've talked to her several times. In fact, I think there was one report the other day that said we hadn't talked to her for over a week and we waited. In fact, we actually had talked to her again on Saturday. And so, we have pretty thoroughly allowed her to recall what she can from this incident, and we feel confident that this is the way it should be projected now, and this is the accurate information. She hasn't wavered one bit from her original statement to us, which occurred on that date -- the original statement to the investigators.

Remember, that original statement that went out was based on printouts from our dispatchers, it was based on hearsay information from people who had talked to Mary Catherine, but not based on an investigator's actual discussion with her.

And up to this point it wasn't a big issue for us to have to clarify. And we wanted to make sure that it didn't have an impact on the investigation if we did. We're very careful about what we're putting out in the media. We don't want to compromise this investigation in any fashion. And so, please understand that, and try not to read into this.

QUESTION: Do you think by releasing a sketch, it would compromise your investigation? A lot of people are confused that Mary Catherine saw enough detail in the clothing now, hair on the back of the hands, the Polo shirt, that kind of thing. Why didn't she see the face? Can you further explain that?

DINSE: Well, I really can't. I'm not in a position that I can clarify that at this point. I think this is part of the investigation. The fact that we have not put out a composite, if you will -- and that's what you've asked for in the past -- is a specific reason on our part. And I'd rather not discuss that in the media.

QUESTION: Are you telling us that she got a good look at him, but you are not going to release that?

DINSE: I am not saying that. I did not say it.

Listen to me: I said there -- we are not putting out a composite, and we are not clarifying why we're not putting out a composite.

QUESTION: Can you clarify, then, whether Mary Catherine, once and for all, got a good, clean look at this individual's face?

DINSE: She saw the individual. Now whether you're -- the fact of how good a look she got at his face, we are not clarifying.

QUESTION: But we're now told she saw him twice. So -- in either of those opportunities did she get a clear, "I see you, you see me?"

DINSE: I am not clarifying that question. I am not going to answer that question, so you understand that.

QUESTION: Why don't you reveal that?

DINSE: That's for reasons of the investigation, and I'm just not going to discuss it at this point.

QUESTION: Can you specify where the second time Mary Catherine saw the suspect?

DINSE: She saw him after he had left the room.

QUESTION: Is there any doubt that there was a gun, chief?

DINSE: I don't know if I need to do this. I forget to start asking the question.

Is there any doubt that she saw a gun?

QUESTION: Is there any doubt that she saw a gun?

DINSE: At this point, no. There is no doubt that she saw a gun.

QUESTION: Sir, did she get up from the bed to see the suspect at the second location?


QUESTION: Chief, did Mary Catherine recognize the man's voice? Was it familiar at all to her?

DINSE: She heard the voice, and whether or not she recognizes it or not, I'm not going to clarify at this point.

QUESTION: Can you clarify some details about Mr. Edmunds, in terms of how -- it's unclear -- first it was, he was spotted in the area. Now that's not the case.

Can you just take us through how you connected Mr. Edmunds to this and, again, you know, what information you think he might have?

DINSE: Well, our understanding at this point was information from the milkman, which is widely known, regarding a car that he saw and a license plate that had the numbers 266. At a later time at the vigil -- and that was up in the area that night or in that vicinity around that area, exact time of the morning, yes.

QUESTION: The night of her...

DINSE: I believe it was that night. I may be wrong on that, but I believe it was that night.

QUESTION: Did she see him in the hallway?

DINSE: Let me finish this one and I'll get to you.

In response to that, we started looking for that license plate. And we found that the letters were not accurate. We knew the letters were not accurate, but the number was.

And we did see that numbered license plate in a car that was somewhat similar to what was described, but not identical, on a vehicle at the vigil.

We since identified that vehicle as belonging to Mr. Edmunds. We wanted to talk to Mr. Edmunds about what he may or may not know about this incident. And that's all we have at this point.

QUESTION: You were looking for him and his car at the site of the vigil?

DINSE: We were looking for that license plate on a car, the 266. And we did see it at the vigil. We subsequently learned who it was based on a full understanding of that license plate and what his part in the prior investigation at West Valley and other places.

QUESTION: And just one follow up: Did you know at that time that Mr. Edmunds had been spotted sleeping in his car on the street directly behind the Smart home?

DINSE: No, we did not.

You had a question.

QUESTION: So did she see him in the hallway, then? If she got up to go look, did she see him in the hallway?

DINSE: She saw him in another part of the house. What part of the house we don't want to identify at this point. But she did see him in another part of the house, not in the bedroom.


QUESTION: Why can't you identify what other part of the house?

DINSE: The question is, "why don't I identify what other part of the house?"

Because we are still evaluating what we want to go out in front of the media.

These things, ladies and gentlemen, have some potential within the investigation. These are things that we know -- and we know a lot of information. And we're not telling you all that we know.

And when I say I'm not going to talk about it, it has an impact on the investigation.


QUESTION: Can you tell us why she waited so long to go to her parents?


DINSE: Just a second. I'm sorry.

QUESTION: Can you tell us why she waited so long to go to her parents? Was she afraid? If she saw him last, why did she go back to bed?

DINSE: You know, the reason she waited was that she originally heard the threat to her sister. When they left, she got up to leave to go tell her parents and saw the suspect again, not knowing how long this suspect was in the house, she went back in fear and waited; and it turned out to be a lengthy time. That's all.

QUESTION: Can you quote the threat?

DINSE: You know, I don't want to go -- I do know what that threat -- I can't recall it right now. But it may have some impact, the actual wordage, and so I'd rather not say it.


QUESTION: ... privately made a sketch on your own and just haven't released it? Have you made a sketch on your own, just for your own...

DINSE: We do not have a sketch at this time.

QUESTION: Chief, part of the new information that came out yesterday was details about the suspect. We understand withholding information about a crime scene, but this is information that, had it been released earlier, could have helped us all look for this guy.

How do you defend not releasing that?

DINSE: Well, first of all, we didn't have all the information that you got until just recently.

QUESTION: When? Can you be more specific?

DINSE: Well, our last interview with Mary Catherine was on Saturday.

QUESTION: We were told last week, then, on Thursday that she's been interviewed three times. Now she's been interviewed on a Saturday.

Has she been interviewed four times?

DINSE: Well Saturday, I think, would make four times.

QUESTION: OK, so then yesterday when we were told she's only been interviewed three times, is it now four or three?

DINSE: You know, we have four interviews of Mary Catherine with investigators and people who are talented in interviewing young juveniles...


DINSE: Just a minute, let me finish the question. I'll get back to you.

We have had other contacts with Mary Catherine where conversations have taken place. So I mean, it depends on what you're going to call an interview. We took her away from the house one day and drove around. I'm not going to discuss what we drove around or why, but we did. And she was with investigators. You might want to count that as an interview.

But the reality is, we've had four formal interviews with her, and we are confident we have a good piece of information. We may learn more from her as time goes on because of the ability to remember and recall in a traumatic situation, particularly with a child of her age.

So that's what we're doing.

QUESTION: Chief, in all fairness, just a follow-up. I mean, obviously you're out here because you're department went under some, you know, hot scrutiny yesterday. You have not been here for the past week. Why are you here today then?

DINSE: Well, I'm here today because of the scrutiny that was provided yesterday. I was out of town yesterday, by the way. I got back in late in the day, and I wasn't here for that particular meeting. But under -- or your briefing. But understand something, that all that was put out with my approval.

And that had -- had I been here, I probably would have been the one that had been here to put it out. So today I'm here to try to clarify and bring a little bit of understanding to the information that you received yesterday.

QUESTION: Well chief, if this new suspect information came -- you got it Saturday. Why do we get it -- a hat on Saturday and the rest on Tuesday?

DINSE: Well, you know, I'm just saying that's the natural progression of this investigation. And we're releasing the information as we get it, and as we believe the information will be helpful.

QUESTION: You talked about the suspect being familiar with the house or neighborhood. Is there anything that the suspect said in that threat that reinforces that?

DINSE: You know, I don't want to speculate on that part of it. There are things in the threat that we want to keep out of the public view at this point. And I think I'll just leave it at that.

QUESTION: Did he threaten Elizabeth's life? Can you say that much? Elizabeth's life?

DINSE: He did threaten Elizabeth's life.


QUESTION: What was the purposes of the checkpoints last night and...


DINSE: I think there was somebody -- let me give somebody else a chance over here. QUESTION: In terms of the scope of the investigation -- this might have two or three questions attached to it.

How far afield have leads come from, in terms of, maybe, possible sightings -- a lot of country? Second part of question is: Have you interviewed...

DINSE: Give me one at a time. I'm not real...


DINSE: OK, well, first of all, in the investigation they're coming from everywhere throughout the nation. In fact, I'll give you an example.

One came from Michigan and the caller said that they had seen the suspect in Michigan, and he's now a double-amputee.

So I mean, those are the kinds of things that we're getting from all over the country here. Some of them well-meaning people, but many of them are not very worthwhile.

Your next -- well, I'll let you have the two follow-ups and then we'll go to somebody else.

QUESTION: OK. And have you interviewed all the members of the extended family?

DINSE: You know, I can't swear that we've interviewed all of them. We've certainly have interviewed most, if not all.

QUESTION: What was the purpose of...

DINSE: One more, and I don't want to...

QUESTION: The third question is, canvassing the neighborhood, talking to every neighbor within a mile or a certain perimeter.

DINSE: I believe we have done that. You know, I'll let the FBI discuss that.

Do you know what the distance is?

DAN ROBERTS, FBI: I don't. I know they were doing the immediate canvas of the area, of every home...

DINSE: I know we were -- the wide area around that house on the several-block area around it we have done.

You had a question.

QUESTION: The purpose of going through the neighborhood last night with the checkpoints. Can you tell us what the purpose of that was?

DINSE: I'll let Dan speak to that. ROBERTS: Sure.

Last night there were police officers and agents from the FBI up in the neighborhood again trying to identify all the people that come through, especially on Tuesday nights and Wednesday mornings, for obvious reasons.

We wanted to set up an informational checkpoint just to see if there was somebody that we may have missed on the neighborhood canvas. As the questions have alluded to, we've been involved in extensive neighborhood investigations in this case. And agents and detectives have spoken to every nearby neighbor I believe, by now, as well as their kids and whoever else lives in the home.

We have extensive database set up in terms of workers and other folks that have been up in that neighborhood. And those are the kinds of things that we were looking at. We were just trying to basically enhance our neighborhood investigation by doing the informational stops last night.

QUESTION: What did you find at the checkpoints?

ROBERTS: We were able to identify a few more leads out of there. I don't want to get specifically. But we were able to at least identify some people that we had not picked up before on the neighborhood canvas that we're going to run out those leads today.

QUESTION: Is there a specific questionnaire that you're asking all these people? Or what -- and are you able to tell us the crux of that questionnaire?

ROBERTS: There is a specific questionnaire that's been developed for the investigators on this case. They have been going door-to-door and filling in the questionnaire with all of the residents up in that neighborhood.

The crux of it is generally what we've talked about here: Who has been in the neighborhood? Who's worked in the neighborhood? Who's come through the neighborhood visiting? Those types of things.

QUESTION: It was said yesterday that the information they have is that no one heard any scream. Will you verify that, that no one heard any screams in the neighborhood?

ROBERTS: I don't...

QUESTION: That was what was said yesterday.

DINSE: You know, I don't recall anybody -- now there -- the reason I'm hesitating is there may be one individual that was talked to that heard someone scream, or a scream. But nobody -- nobody anywhere else close to or the near the house has heard it. And certainly nobody in the house heard any scream, including Mary Catherine. So we're not putting a lot of credence in...

(CROSSTALK) QUESTION: ... or somebody, perhaps, in the family, talk to us a little bit about Mary Catherine.

Clearly she's had a very trying time. Can somebody tell us how she's feeling now? What is her condition?

DINSE: Well, I'll let the family deal with that. But just let me say, from a standpoint of a witness, Mary Catherine has been a great witness for what she is able to tell us.

This investigation, and you need to know this, would be very, very difficult without Mary Catherine. She has provided us a tremendous amount of information -- I'm not going to go over every piece of it -- but a tremendous amount of information. And we're very appreciative of her.

And one of the things I said last week, and I'm saying again this week, and maybe even firmer, I believe we will resolve this case eventually. And Mary Catherine is a big part of doing that.


QUESTION: Just to be very clear about why there was -- I know we're going to get that follow-up answer with a member of the family. But just to be very, very clear about why it is that false information came out earlier: You're saying that it was hearsay that came from police dispatchers.

DINSE: Well, understand something: The parents phoned this in to the police dispatchers, they got information over it. The family was getting information very quickly. Nobody was doing thorough sit-down interviews with Mary Catherine. Certainly no police officer was.

And when we put the information out very quickly at the beginning was to get information out so that we could make sure that all of the people who may have an opportunity to intercede here very quickly could do that.

You know, under the Rachel Alert we have a criteria that we have to go through before we can notify the media. And so we were going through that and part of it is know this kind of information -- So we get it quickly and we didn't go directly to her until the investigators got there. Let me -- OK, just a second.

QUESTION: The family has been persistently saying -- speaking to Elizabeth. The parents have been saying Elizabeth in their press conference -- in these press briefings, so it would seem to us that you believe she's still alive and you've actually said that. Is that a hope or is that a hunch?

DINSE: I going to let him address first, the other question concerning that.

ED SMART, MISSING GIRL'S FATHER: You know, I've had comments, the full spectrum from, you know, she's dead, she's alive. Every time that I've spoken to you, I feel in my heart -- I feel that she is alive. She is waiting to be found. And I can't tell you any more than what I feel.

I -- both my wife and I feel very strongly that she is alive and that you are facilitating her coming back to us. You know, that's what I -- I'm telling you. I just really feel from my heart -- we pray all the time. We pray for her. And we feel the prayer of others who are out there, thousands, millions of people that are out there helping us and are supporting us.

And we truly do feel that she is alive. And we feel it's essential for your help. We know that you're helping her; that's why we're out here trying to do everything that we can to help find her. Because we truly feel that she is alive, and that she is going to come home to us.

With regard to Mary Catherine, she is so sweet. She is just -- the two girls were just very loving girls. You are going to get a chance to see a painting of the two of them together that I think illustrates the love and the happiness that they had with each other. Mary Catherine is just doing -- I can't believe how well she's doing and holding up under all that's -- that's going forth.

And you'll excuse us if we don't bring her out with our other children, because we wanted to keep them as removed as possible and so that they can have -- be normal if that's possible. But we want you to know that she's doing very well. She is -- she was asking, you know, what can I do to help, this morning. You know, I want to help, and all of us want to see Elizabeth back here; and I want to thank all of you for helping us, because it is this help that we believe is going to bring her back.

QUESTION: ... this morning. Is Mary Catherine with the family or...

SMART: Yes, she is with the family. Our family is all together, and I would just ask that you -- I know as much as you want to come up and take pictures and so forth, we've tried to have them at the house so that they can resume a family life, because we want our family life, and we would appreciate your courtesy in trying to stay back just a little bit. My kids want to come out and ride their bikes in the circle and do what they normally do, and we just don't want this to impact them. So I hope you'll understand.

QUESTION: Has she been separated for these interviews, for the police interviews? Has she been alone with the police investigator when the questions were asked?

SMART: You know, I -- she -- her mother is with her. I can't really go into that. I hope you'll understand.

DINSE: We're going to take -- try to do this -- five more questions. Right here. Nice guy with his hands up.

QUESTION: Can you clarify the information about the suspect? You said yesterday that he was wearing a jacket but also that he had dark hair on his arms. Those two facts seem to contradict. Can you clarify that for us? DINSE: You know, I can't clarify that one. I know the dark hair on the hands. That we were aware of is one of the descriptors. We assume that if he has dark hair on his hands, it's probably on his arms, too.

QUESTION: When Mary Catherine -- you say that she saw the suspect the second time in the home. Was he with Elizabeth or was he alone? And how much time went by when she spotted him again?

DINSE: He was still with Elizabeth.

QUESTION: Last week you said that you believed you had either spoken to the suspect or soon would be speaking with the suspect. Do you still believe that?


QUESTION: Do you think he's in the area?

DINSE: Right there.

QUESTION: Do you think it's the work of one person or perhaps more? is there an area where you're focusing? Is it more than one?

DINSE: You know, we have not eliminated multiple people involved in this.


DINSE: ... wait a minute, Brian?

QUESTION: You said that at the house today, just this morning, I believe they may have been Department of Public Safety agents, and searching around, do you know why they were there or what they were looking for?

DINSE: No, I can't -- I don't know why, Brian.

QUESTION: And have you consulted psychics on this?

DINSE: I've got psychics coming out of my ears.


DINSE: No. We haven't consulted a psychic.


DINSE: Wait a minute. One more.

QUESTION: Do you still believe the abductor is in this area, in the state? And if not, can the FBI address that?

DINSE: Certainly the FBI is part of this, and we have looked at things out of state, and they have been very cooperative in assisting with people on the outside. Certainly the sightings down in Texas, and Mr. Edmunds was an issue, and the FBI was very beneficial in some of that, which turned out not to be the case. And so we're working very carefully. Okay, one more question -- Somebody who hasn't asked a question before.

QUESTION: Did you say Mary Catherine recognized the voice or might have recognized the voice?

DINSE: I didn't say that.

QUESTION: I'm sorry, but can you answer the question, though. Do still you believe Elizabeth's abductor is in Utah? Not Mr. Edmunds, because that whole theory's been watered down yesterday. But Elizabeth's abductor?

DINSE: Right. We believe that this abductor is still reachable. And that very well could be in the state of Utah still. And beyond that I'm not going to comment.


DINSE: OK this is absolutely the last question.

I said last time; because of the focus of what we know about the case, which has grown in the last week, we believe that we needed to focus on the areas that we talked about: around the house, people who had access to the house, people who may have had some tangent to the house, all of those things are the reasons that we believe that we should go back and talk to this person. We may have talked to him before.

We've done more. We've gotten more information and we are even more convinced at this point that we are doing the right thing and that we eventually will locate this person.

OK, that's it. Thank you very much.

PHILLIPS: All right, you saw -- or sorry, Salt Lake City Police Chief Rick Dinse giving the daily news briefing there on the search for 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart.

Making it clear that they believe the abductor is still reachable. And that means that he still could be in Utah, but very strong words there believing that this abductor is still reachable. Also clarifying some information -- yesterday there was a lot of confusion about this news conference that happened yesterday, about information being released by the police and information that wasn't being released.

Police chief coming out and saying there's no conspiracy to keep any information from the media. They're trying to deal with this as best as possible. There was some misinformation. They have clarified that. And that was with regard to Mary Catherine, the 9-year-old sister of Elizabeth Smart. Just confirming the fact that she did give a good description of this abductor. Will not say whether or not she saw the face or heard the voice. They are keeping that -- they're not revealing that information at this point. We're going to talk more about that with Don Clark, former FBI special agent. He's on standby. We're going to talk to him in just a minute for some of the information that did come out of this news conference.

But first, this story is just coming to CNN out of New York. We are told that singer Billy Joel has checked into a rehab hospital. Columbia Records has confirmed that the singer has checked himself into a Connecticut hospital known for treating substance abuse. That's the only information that I have right here at this time.

It says that he recently checked himself into Silver Hospital for a planned 10-day stay to deal with a specific and personal problem that has recently developed. We're talking about singer Billy Joel here. This was a news release that was faxed to us from Billy Joel's spokeswoman. He is scheduled to stay in Silver Hills several weeks and expects to leave the facility in a few days. I'm sorry. Scheduled his stay in Silver Hills several weeks ago he scheduled this and will be there for several days. Once again Billy Joel checked himself into a rehab hospital in the state of Connecticut.

All right. Now let's bring in Don Clark, our former FBI special agent, to talk a little bit more about this news conference. First of all, Don, did you get a chance to hear the whole news conference there by the police chief?

DON CLARK, FMR. FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Yes, I think I heard most of it, Kyra, and got most of his points about trying to clarify certain bits of information.

PHILLIPS: OK, you -- go ahead -- Why don't you go ahead and address that, and then I want to ask you some specifics here about why not talking about the fact that the little sister might have seen the face and heard the voice, et cetera. But give me your overall impressions first of what the chief clarified.

CLARK: Well, not very much, quite honestly. And quite frankly, Kyra, I don't know that there was necessarily a need for him to clarify some of the information.

Keep in mind, these are extremely difficult investigations to try to bring to some type of successful conclusion. Originally -- original information that's received in these investigations are oftentimes misinformation, erroneous information, or whatever, but you've got to make a quick analysis and a quick judgment, and act, because the main objective is number one, is to get the kid back, the person, in this case a child, back safely, and then secondary is to catch the individual that is responsible for it.

And you've got to move quickly because we also know that in these type of abductions, perhaps within hours, some harm could have come to the kid, so it is so important to move on that, and it's not necessarily uncommon to have bits and pieces of information that may later be determined that that wasn't the right information.

But I also must add, is that, one of the main points of the media in these investigations, and certainly in my experience, was to make sure that the media has as much information that can help you to do and accomplish those two objectives that I just spoke about, that is to get the child back, and to catch the person that is responsible for it. That means descriptive information, or any other type of information. Absent that, the other information, perhaps, should not be released.

PHILLIPS: Well, Don, why doesn't the chief want to release this information about whether or not Mary Catherine, 9-year-old sister of Elizabeth Smart, saw the abductor's face or heard his voice?

CLARK: Well, I can't answer that, obviously, Kyra. I don't think any of us can answer that, because we really don't have all of the details that are going on. But I would suggest that if there was information from any source, whether it's Mary Catherine, or any other source that could be used to develop some type of composite.

It would appear that that would be a prime bit of information to get out to the media; so some poster could be developed; some artist could make a good rendition of what this information has resulted in, and put that out to the public, and I think that would be well served.

PHILLIPS: Now yesterday, the reason why we're talking about this so much, is because yesterday, the chief didn't give the news conference. It was a public relations officer, and basically, Don, he just got crucified. I don't know if you saw it, but reporters were really going at him, saying, OK you said one thing a couple weeks ago; now you're changing the whole story.

And it was about Mary Catherine and what she had said, or what she had seen. Why don't we talk about just the pressure on this 9- year-old girl. I mean it's very easy for a 9-year-old to get confused, and maybe say something that wasn't right and then remember and fix it.

I mean there's not conspiracy going on here, is there? I mean, are we being too suspicious of all this?

CLARK: Well, I hope not. I really hope there's not conspiracy going on here, and certainly we don't want to see this 9-year-old girl, or perhaps any other witness that's trying to assist in this investigation lawfully, and to the best of their abilities, to be crucified in -- and because they are given information or they may get misinformation, occasionally.

Give them an opportunity to work through that. For people who have been witnesses to a crime, Kyra, you line up four or five people and you get, sometimes, four or five different descriptions as to what took place. So certainly, to carefully revisit with Mary Catherine, or whatever other witnesses, or people, individuals furnishing information, is the appropriate thing to do.

And it is okay to keep going back to the source of information. I have to tell you, when I was a baby agent, an old agent, a real old agent who was about my age now, told me that, look, if you can't find a conclusion to the crime, go back to the beginning. And in this case, it appears that Mary Catherine may be the beginning of that -- solving this crime.

PHILLIPS: All right, Don. You're not that old. Don Clark, former FBI special agent. Thanks for being with us.

CLARK: Thank you, Kyra.




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