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Salt Lake City Police and Smart Family Address the Press

Aired June 21, 2002 - 16:01   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Of course, we're hoping to get some of those inquiries responded to by authorities, as they are now emerging there, in Salt Lake City. To hold their press conference in just minutes from now, once they get positioned at the podium and at the mike.

Hopefully they'll be addressing the questions as to how did Bret Michael Edmunds find his away from Utah to West Virginia. Let's listen in right now.

CHIEF RICK DINSE, SALT LAKE CITY POLICE: As most of you know, earlier today the FBI took into custody Bret Michael Edmunds, in West Virginia, in a hospital where he had earlier, two days previously, checked himself in on drug-related symptoms.

What I'm going to do now is, I'll turn the microphone over to Special Agent Dan Roberts, who will give you a few more specifics and then we'll take questions.

DAN ROBERTS, FBI: OK, let me front the fact that I don't have a lot of specifics at this time, because this is fresh information. But what I will tell you is this: that a little after 11:00 a.m. this morning our time, the FBI received a telephone call that tipped us to the fact that Mr. Edmunds was in the hospital in Martinsburg, West Virginia.

We immediately contacted our agents in West Virginia. We have an office right in Martinsburg, and dispatched some agents to the hospital, where they took Mr. Edmunds into custody, there at the hospital, along with the U.S. Marshal Service and state and local police officers there.

He remains there at this time, guarded by FBI personnel. We believe his vehicle is also at the hospital, and we have that surrounded. And we'll be seeking, likely, a search warrant to go through that vehicle as well in near future.

I don't know that the vehicle has even been towed from the hospital yet. They were working on towing it to a state police facility for processing. That's basically where we stand.


ROBERTS: First question was what's he charged with? Well, he has the local charges here, and he was also charged with the federal offense of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, which is a violation of Title 18 of the United States code.

QUESTION: What time did he check into the hospital?

ROBERTS: I don't know the time that he did check into the hospital. My understanding was just yesterday.

QUESTION: Has he been questioned yet?

ROBERTS: He has not. He has not been questioned.

QUESTION: When will he be questioned?

ROBERTS: Well, we're still working on that. In all probability, we will send a detective along with an FBI agent out to West Virginia to conduct that interview, since they'll be the most familiar with the case. We'll send him from here to there.

QUESTION: When will he be brought back?

ROBERTS: That, again, depends on Mr. Edmunds and how the interview goes.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) suspect in this kidnapping?

ROBERTS: We cannot. We have not had a chance to interview him yet or conduct a search of his vehicle or anything yet. So we cannot now call him a suspect. He's still a person that we want to interview.

QUESTION: Is he close to death?

ROBERTS: Liver failure -- I don't know that, and I don't know the answer to that question.

QUESTION: The U.S. Marshals office in West Virginia is reporting that he checked in under the name Todd Richards, gave a phone number which was his phone number, and that there was an apparent drug overdose. Can you confirm any of that?

ROBERTS: The only thing I confirm of your statement there is that he did check in under a different name other than Mr. Edmunds. Regarding the other stuff, I cannot confirm.

QUESTION: What questions will you ask him?

ROBERTS: Oh, obvious questions about this case, and the disappearance and his possible association with this disappearance of Miss Smart.

QUESTION: How important do you think he is in this case?

ROBERTS: That's -- I can't give you an answer to that, in terms of a probability of how important he is. But he's certainly somebody that we're very interested in talking to. QUESTION: Did you have any idea that he was headed east, and are you surprised that he got that far?

ROBERTS: I am not surprised that he got that far. It's been since the candlelight vigil that really anybody has had a good sighting of him. And so that's almost two weeks now, so I'm not at all surprised that he got that far. And he obviously knows that he's wanted, so he's been on the run.


ROBERTS: I'll let the chief answer a lot of these questions. He's just loving it right now.

DINSE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can you give us more of an idea of why he was running so much? You guys said you were holding some of this stuff back for a number of reasons. Can you give us a little more of an idea of why he would want to run so much?

DINSE: We haven't held much back on Mr. Edmunds. All along Mr. Edmunds has been somebody we wanted to talk to. He was seen in the area, sometime around the time of the incident, or at least the vehicle -- a vehicle similar to what he had been driving. And we know he had been, since April, at least April, had been on the run and had been in the Avenues area. So he was somebody we wanted to talk to.

I mean, I use the example: he's a question mark. And we want to put a period on that question mark. And that is all it is at this time.

QUESTION: Is he still not a suspect?

DINSE: He is still not suspect at this time.

QUESTION: Chief, we're being told that at least (UNINTELLIGIBLE) people are seriously being looked at in this investigation. However, none of those four to six people have had a police bulletin like this one put out on them. Why is that?

DINSE: You know, Mr. Edmunds, first of all, not supporting your indication there's three or four other people that we are focusing on. But Mr. Edmunds, he is a wanted individual. He's a fugitive. So far he's the only fugitive we have in this investigation.


QUESTION: ... hospital, volunteering sometime during the volunteer effort?

DINSE: No, I don't know that. I do not have that information.

QUESTION: So you've had charges of federal charges, and that was filed sometime ago, I understand. Does that indicate that you knew he left the state sometime ago? DINSE: Well, I let the FBI deal with that, probably. But my response, from my perspective is, I would have expected he could have left the state. But I'll let Dan speak to that question.

ROBERTS: Well, the warrant itself was filed using probable cause that he had fled the state. And we based that on a lot of different evidence that went into our affidavit, which you could probably obtain. It's a matter of record down at the United States district court. And that will show you all of the probable cause that we used to show interstate flight in this case.

QUESTION: Are you anxious to record his voice, and then to play it for 9-year-old Mary Katherine, to see if it's a voice that she recognizes at all?

DINSE: We're anxious to look at him and all aspects of this investigation, to try to find out if he is in fact a suspect.

QUESTION: But my question is, are you anxious for Mary Katherine to at least listen to his voice, or look at him, or see if in any way she's familiar with him?

DINSE: You know, if that is -- when you say anxious, it's part of the investigation, and that would be one thing we would do. Understanding that right now, he is in a rather critical state. He's in intensive care, as I understand it. So, you know, there's some concern about whether or not we'll be able to get to him.

QUESTION: Chief, are investigators...

QUESTION: ... Salt Lake City to Martinsburg, West Virginia?

DINSE: Not yet.

QUESTION: Will you be able to?


QUESTION: Could you give us details of what, potentially, the car could provide, in clues, et cetera?

DINSE: Well, if the car was -- let's say the car was used in the abduction, there may be evidence in the car that might support that.

QUESTION: If he might have information about Elizabeth, why not ask him some preliminary questions?

DINSE: We may very well.

QUESTION: Why the delay? Why not let federal marshals or FBI ask some questions right now?

DINSE: I don't think -- I don't think we said we weren't. Well, I didn't say that.

QUESTION: Let me ask you a question. Is he being questioned now? Has he been questioned?

DINSE: Right now, he is -- it depends on his physical condition, as to whether or not we're going to be questioning him. And if it looks like we're not going to be able to question him before he becomes healthy enough -- or maybe he won't become healthy -- then the likelihood is we'll go ahead and question him there.

But the people in West Virginia do not have the information on this investigation, and so their questions would be rather superficial. Somebody over here had a question.

QUESTION: I was going to ask more about the evidence that might be in the car. Elizabeth's fingerprints, things like that?

DINSE: Sure. If it was used in the abduction, those kinds of things could be in the car.

QUESTION: How about the license plates on the car? Is there any indication that they are stolen license plates, since we believe that he dumped license plates?

DINSE: Well, we know it's his car. It's the car that he had. And we know the license plates on that car, so yes, those license plates are undoubtedly stolen. We know...

QUESTION: Is there any indication as to why he was headed towards, of all places, West Virginia?

DINSE: It's east. I have no idea.

QUESTION: Did you recognize the (OFF-MIKE)

DINSE: You know, the specifics of exactly how it got identified is somewhat complex. But it deals with the hospital trying to make notification to find out so they could treat him. I believe they contacted his mother, and she didn't understand who that person was, but ultimately recognized that it possible was her son. And it basically started that way.

QUESTION: Did his mother turn him in?

DINSE: I don't know that she turned him in. But the mother was initially called by the hospital.

QUESTION: Does his alias back anything he's used in the past?

DINSE: No, I don't believe it does, that I'm aware of. But I'm not familiar with all of his AKAs.

QUESTION: Detectives there talking to him, how soon do you anticipate that?

DINSE: As soon as we get those detectives identified and get ticket on an airplane.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) DINSE: Again, I'm sorry.

QUESTION: The mother was contacted at her home in Sterling?

DINSE: Yes, yes.

QUESTION: Do you have reason to believe he also showed up to volunteer at one of the searches?

DINSE: He very well could have. We don't have that information that he did. We've had some people say they thought he was there. But we have no confirmation of that.

QUESTION: Did the mother have any contact with the FBI or local police?

DINSE: Mother did have contact with the local FBI and the local police. Not direct -- mother not directly, but indirectly, yes.

QUESTION: When did that occur?

DINSE: Today.

QUESTION: How many other sightings have there been of Edmunds in this area?

DINSE: Well, we've had a lot of people in our tips that thought they had seen him. But this is the first hard one that we've had.


DINSE: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: How soon will the car be searched?

DINSE: Well, the car is isolated right now. And the one thing that we have done is just on the potential that Elizabeth may have been in the car, we have looked at the outside and we have looked in the trunk. But she is not in the vehicle.

QUESTION: Did he have any contact with this family here in Utah since his disappearance? And can you talk about that? Has Bret Michael Edmunds had contact with family members...

DINSE: Not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: Mr. Roberts, did you have a tap on the mom's line?

ROBERTS: I can't comment on the investigative technique that was used there.

QUESTION: Dan, is there anything about Mr. Edmunds that would match the profiler's account of the abductor in the Elizabeth Smart case? Is there anything the profiler has said that would make you think that Mr. Edmunds might be -- any kind of match or characteristics? ROBERTS: There are some similarities to what the profilers have told us, to Mr. Edmunds. But that is not the main reason that we want to speak to him.

QUESTION: What are the similarities? Can you talk about the similarities?

ROBERTS: No, I'm not.

QUESTION: What is the main reason you want to talk to him again?

DINSE: The main reason is, he was in the area, he was identified in the area. He was driving a car that had a license plate with the numbers 266. Those numbers had been given to us by somebody who had been in the area, close to this incident. And so, as a natural course of this investigation, we're trying to talk to everybody who has been in there. And he's one of those individuals.


QUESTION: ... identify the proof that he took from Salt Lake City to that location, or where his whereabouts may have been on specific dates?

DINSE: No, we do not have that information at this time. Somebody over here.

QUESTION: As far as Edmunds, do you have any other solid leads? From what I understand, some family members maybe a couple of nights ago may have given you some leads to a possible suspect. Are you working on that, or did that end up a dead end?

DINSE: No, we are actively working on several leads. We have, as I said before, over 400 leads that we are actively working. Some of those are promising leads and -- a much smaller number. And we are focusing in on some of those leads. But, at this point in time, we don't have a clear suspect in any one of them. Some of that information has come from the parents, that's true.

QUESTION: Have you been more suspicious of Mr. Edmunds, since he might be involved in a crime (UNINTELLIGIBLE) because he was at large, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and perhaps you didn't want to give him any more reason to -- really emphasizing that he's not a suspect? When in actuality, you know, you have more suspicions that he might be involved?

DINSE: No, we have no more suspicion about his participation in this than we have given you all along. He is just somebody we want to talk to. He is a fugitive. He is wanted. He has a criminal background. All of those things are important to us, obviously, and we want to talk to him.

QUESTION: Was he a known drug user?

DINSE: Yes, he was.

QUESTION: The hospital called the mother. Did the mother then call the FBI or authorities?

DINSE: You know, I believe she talked to local authorities. I'm not sure who made the original notification to us. But she did call the local authorities, yes.

QUESTION: Did Edmunds ever talk to his mother?

DINSE: Not to my knowledge, no.


DINSE: You know, I understand that he is a heroin addict. I don't know that he was -- the reason he's in the hospital now is because of a heroin incident. But I understand he was a heroin...

QUESTION: Do you have any idea if his overdose was intentional, or was accidental? Do you have any information either way?

DINSE: We have no information on that at all.

QUESTION: What do you know about his condition?

DINSE: We know that he's in intensive care, that his condition is critical. And I don't know if that's a -- you know, a medical term. But that's my definition, that he's in intensive care, and that there is a possibility that he could be critical to the point that he might not survive.

But that is, at this point -- you know, we're not doctors. We're doing it from 3,000 miles away. And we'll have to rely on the doctors. But right now he's still conscious, in and out of consciousness. And we're with him, and he is in our custody.

QUESTION: Do they believe he's been traveling alone?

DINSE: We have no knowledge whether he's been traveling alone or not.

QUESTION: Has he made any comment?

DINSE: I won't -- I can't comment on anything that he may have said.

QUESTION: Are there any other injuries that would suggest a struggle, or anything that would relate to the case?

DINSE: Brian, I couldn't tell you that, no. He's in the hospital and we haven't looked that closely, to my knowledge.

QUESTION: Are you concerned about whether your investigators can get to him before he gets into critical condition?

DINSE: Well, we have investigators at the scene. FBI people are there at the scene. Not questioning him because we don't have all the information to do a good questioning. But we will ensure that if it becomes critical, to the point that there is, you know, a life emergency and he's able to talk, then they will start questioning him.

But at this point, it would be useless for them to ask very many things.

QUESTION: You say you have promising leads in the case. Do you feel that we're any closer today to having a handful of probable suspects -- not leads but suspects?

DINSE: I think we are closer today than we -- every day we're getting closer to having somebody to focus on. But we are not there.

QUESTION: How many investigators have been added?

DINSE: Well, we have...


DINSE: Pretty much. We have about 100 people involved, both intentionally involved in doing the investigation as well as on the periphery, and somehow involved in the investigation. But we have probably close to 60 people directly working, investigators working these leads.

QUESTION: And you haven't added any?


QUESTION: Can you describe this as your first big break?

DINSE: Well, it's a break, in that we have located Mr. Edmunds, and we hopefully can put this issue to rest, one way or the other. And I guess if you want to say it in this case, it's a big break, that part of it, yes.

QUESTION: Have you been contacted by any attorney on his behalf?

DINSE: You know, I'll let the FBI talk to that. He's in their custody, and so I'll let Dan...

ROBERTS: I'm not aware any of attorney contact at all in this case at this time.

QUESTION: Do you think it's typical or atypical, to put so much focus on one man that's only wanted for questioning?

DINSE: Well, we haven't put any more focus on it than the focus you have put on him. I mean, we appreciate the information flow, obviously. This has been very productive in making it difficult for him to avoid apprehension.

But we haven't put any additional emphasis on it, other than what I've been continuing to tell you. And it's an important thing for us, to have the ability to talk to him and clear up some things. And we hope we can do that.

QUESTION: Had you received any other tips placing him in West Virginia, prior to the hospital?

DINSE: No, we did not.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) been going in and out of consciousness, is there a legal issue here as to whether he can understand his right to waive counsel and speak to you?

DINSE: You know, that's an attorney question. And there are plenty of attorneys that we have advising us on this case. And I'd let them deal with that.

QUESTION: What are they advising about?

DINSE: I'm not going to discuss that at this point.

QUESTION: As soon as they realized it was Edmunds, did they realize that he was a fugitive? Or was there a time that elapsed between the recognition and the time that the FBI was notified?

DINSE: No, I believe there was a time lapse. And I couldn't tell how much that was. Yes.

QUESTION: Does it surprise you at all that there was such an intense media coverage, his picture put everywhere. And yet, there was no bona fide sightings of him between here and West Virginia?

DINSE: Well, nothing surprises me about this case. And I would say that having him escape for that long a time with that many people looking for him is a little unusual, but not something that concerns me.

QUESTION: Was there anything on his person that would relate or potentially relate to Elizabeth Smart?

DINSE: No, Brian, nothing that I'm aware of.

QUESTION: Is there any way we could get some indication on how the family has been impacted by this news? David, do you care to comment on how the family has been impacted by this news today?

DAVID SMART, MISSING GIRL'S UNCLE: Sure, if you want us to. You know, through this whole thing it's been -- you know, you've heard the term emotional roller coaster used time and time again. And, once again, we know this individual is just being -- he is wanted for questioning. And to what degree that's going to bring, we're not going to hang our hat on.

We're not going to hang our hat on anything until we have Elizabeth in our hands, in our arms. And that's -- I mean, that's about the only thing we can go on, is physically having her back. And then we'll be happy.

We're hopeful that there's some -- that something will lead from this. But as you've all heard, he is wanted for questioning.

QUESTION: How would you characterize his behavior? He shows up at this candlelight vigil, then he disappears for two weeks and ends up 2,000 miles away in a hospital, with a drug overdose?

DAVID HANCOM, ELIZABETH'S UNCLE: That's something I can't comment on. I don't know how to comment on that.

SMART: Law enforcement has to answer that.

QUESTION: When did you receive notification that they had found him?

SMART: When I was in the back, working on a computer, setting it up, hooking it up to network.

HANCOM: Just shortly before the media found out.

QUESTION: Could you describe how they reacted to the news? Was there, you know -- I wouldn't say happy, but...

HANCOM: Well, we're not happy that he's found, other than that he may be some link to where Elizabeth is, or know something about anything. And when we -- we will be happy when Elizabeth is found.

SMART: I think mainly with the speed that this has come out -- you know, I haven't communicated with Ed and Lois yet. And I don't know if Dave has either. But, I mean, this has happened so rapid, you know, we have no idea what the response is. Or how they've reacted.

But this one thing I can tell you is, they will not be happy until they have Elizabeth in their arms.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that now word of this capture has gotten out, that maybe some of the volunteers might back off on their search a bit?

SMART: Absolutely not. I mean, when it comes back to is, they're looking for Edmunds to for questioning. They have no proof of anything, that we're aware of. And that Elizabeth is not back yet. And so we need to continue searching and trying to find Elizabeth, however means we have.

HANCOM: I think maybe this is a confirmation as to how well the media has gotten to the word out, how important it is that Elizabeth stay in the forefront of our minds, and that we continue searching for all aspects, and any types of clues to her return.

SMART: It goes to show what was said earlier today, also, that we're not in a bubble. He's not contained -- this person is not contained in a bubble. He could be anywhere at any time. And having everyone be aware of their surroundings is very important.

And to look into their own property, and corporations looking into their property as well, to see if they see anything, speculative or suspicious.

QUESTION: What was your initial reaction when you heard the news? SMART: Well, my initial reaction was, you know, I hope the police have the type of questions that they -- that they're able to receive the type of questions they're asking Edmunds. And that they'll be able to get something from it.

But, you know, I'm not -- I'm glad to hear that they have Edmunds. But then again, it's mainly based on questioning. I mean, a profile was put out earlier within two hours, two or three hours, after the person had turned themselves in. And I don't know the time frame after that, but the person was released again.

Of course, this is a little bit of a different situation, where he's been evading police and authorities. And so there is no telling.



SMART: You know, to be honest, I haven't had time to even process that. And I'm just going to wait for the police to go through the car, and if they find anything, then that's great.

DINSE: Let me just step in here. You know, we're going take off. So if you have any more questions, I'll take three more questions from the media. Then you're free to ask the family anything further you'd like.

Good -- no, three questions.

QUESTION: Do you feel like some of the heat is off the Salt Lake City police now?

DINSE: No, there's no heat off the Salt Lake City Police Department. The heat is self-imposed. And we're going to continue to search for this young lady, and we're going to continue to search for the suspect who abducted her. And we're not going to be satisfied until we have found them -- both of them.

QUESTION: When will you update us next? You sort of cut these off yesterday. So we're back again today. Can we expect to be updated tomorrow or Sunday, or...

DINSE: When we have something of value to bring to the press, we will. We told you yesterday that, you know, we're going to come to you when we have news. And we will. And we will continue to keep you informed. But we're not going to do it on a daily basis. Thank you very much.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right, you've been listening to Salt Lake City police officials. And now it looks like we're going to hear from the relatives one more time.

SMART: I'm sorry, we haven't talked to Ed and Lois since this broke. I mean, it's been so fast, we haven't had time.

QUESTION: Are they aware of it? SMART: I'm sure they are, yes. But a very important thing is to remember, this person's wanted for questioning, that we need to stay focused on trying to find Elizabeth. And we also put a plea out to the individual that might have her at this time, just to know that the only thing we want is to have Elizabeth back.

And we're not out to try to lynch this person or anything. But we want Elizabeth back. And if there is any way to drop her off at a bus station, or a truck stop, at night, and send Elizabeth back to us, we put that plea out to him and ask him if he would do that.

Elizabeth is someone who is -- she's resourceful. She's also very spiritual. And she likes to jump on a tramp with her friends. She loves to go horseback riding. And this is Elizabeth. I mean, she's very talented and we would like to have her back.

QUESTION: Can I ask if either of you have read this "National Enquirer" article? (OFF-MIKE)

HANCOM: Right now, our largest focus, our only focus, is finding Elizabeth. If media want to take that in some other direction, I have not read it, and there is no response that I feel necessary to give to it.

SMART: It's really not worth the effort to even discuss.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Few more questions, please? Thank you.

SMART: Thanks.

HANCOM: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: You've been listening to the family members of Elizabeth Smart. They say they have no reason to hang their hat on anything until she, Elizabeth, is back in their arms.

And then we also heard from Salt Lake City police, who say that they have no reason in which to reduce the level of intensity of their search for the abductor of Elizabeth Smart, or the search for Elizabeth Smart, even though they have now in custody a man that they have been trying to question for quite some time, Bret Michael Edmunds. He is in a hospital and also in police custody now in Martinsburg, West Virginia.




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