Nearly 20 years later, family spokesperson looks back on the day Elizabeth Smart was found

Elizabeth Smart and Chris Thomas smile together at a recent book launch event for Chris's new book, "Unexpected."
Richard Bart Green / Don Green P

Chris Thomas didn’t know the Ed and Lois Smart family when Elizabeth Smart went missing. He had never met the 14-year-old girl who had been taken from her bedroom. In fact, his only connection to the family was Elizabeth’s cousin who was a newly hired intern in his office. And yet, Chris would devote the next nine months of his life to being spokesman for the Smart family as they searched for Elizabeth and the course of his life would be forever changed by the search.

March 12, 2023, marks 20 years since Elizabeth Smart was found and millions of prayers offered around the world were answered. On this week’s All In podcast, Chris Thomas looked back on the day Elizabeth was found and recalled his ability to see God’s hand throughout the experience of searching for Elizabeth.

Thomas said that when he thinks of those nine months, he is reminded of a quote by late Utah Jazz owner and fellow Latter-day Saint Larry H. Miller who said, “How many coincidences need to occur before they are not coincidences?” He said that he witnessed too many coincidences throughout those nine months to believe they were just coincidences.

Listen to the full interview with Chris in the player below or by clicking here. You can also read a full transcript here.

The following excerpt has been edited for clarity.

Morgan Jones Pearson: Chris, what stands out in your mind from the day that Elizabeth was found?

Chris Thomas: So much I could spend the whole hour talking about that. There’s one tender mercy in particular, and as I wrote about this, it really was something that became front and center.

The day that Elizabeth was found there was a controversial article that was written, and we were working to respond to that article. And Ed was heading to my office for a meeting when he called me and told me that he’d been summoned to the Sandy City Police Department and told not to stop and not to talk to anyone. And he had called me to let me know he was going to be late to the meeting and [would] possibly miss the meeting and was very, very nervous. And, again, there’s Larry Miller—there are so many coincidences that they’re no longer coincidences.

A little bit before that [March day] I had reconnected with a good friend from high school who happened to be a detective with the Sandy City Police Department, and I was able to get a hold of him and learned that they had Elizabeth and that she was safe. And we were able to relay that to Ed who was too scared to go in. He was out in the parking lot pacing and just seeing that moment, being a part of that moment and realizing throughout, we saw the Lord’s hand time and time again. And I mean, as a missionary, so often as missionaries, we don’t know what to do or what to say and we just go out there we say a silent prayer in our hearts, and we do our best. And the Lord helps us and we become an instrument in His hands. And I saw that time and time again. And that was something that, in that moment, was unbelievable but just so incredibly special that Ed would have that reassurance, that he would have had that answer to prayer.

The other thing that really sticks out is that night, late that night, it was impossible to use our phones. There were too many calls coming in and out. So we just finally shut them off. And so I was going up to the Smart house to strategize for the next day. And as I got to the entryway, each of the Smart children was standing and sitting in pajamas, each on a stair that led to the third level of their house, and Ed and Lois were standing in the front and I just paused for a minute. And I’d had faith that this family would be together again [but] I didn’t know that I would actually get to experience that. And it was incredibly gratifying to see that and to see that miracle—to recognize that the unbelievable had happened and how blessed we all had been.

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