One of Elizabeth Smart‘s kidnappers, Wanda Barzee, was released from prison on Wednesday after spending more than 15 years behind bars. The now 72-year-old admitted to helping her husband, Brian David Mitchell, take the teenager from her Utah home and hold her captive for nine months. 

Upon her release, Smart, 30, released a statement to the public: “Without doubt the past few weeks have been a rollercoaster of emotion, and I would like to take the opportunity to thank everyone for their kind words, support, and concern. It has meant so much to me,” she wrote on Instagram on Sept. 19. 

“May we all remain vigilant in watching over our families, friends, and community from anyone who would seek to hurt or take advantage. I truly believe life is meant to be happy and beautiful, and no matter what happens that will remain my goal for me and for my family.”

In July, the Utah Board of Pardons denied Wanda Barzee an early release, but last Tuesday, they made a surprising reversal decision. 

“Upon further review and advice from legal counsel, the board must count time spent in federal custody toward Ms. Barzee’s state sentence,” Greg Johnson, the director of administrative services wrote.

elizabeth smart kidnapper

Wanda Barzee’s booking photo taken in March 2003. Credit: Mega Agency

Back in June, Barzee skipped a parole hearing and Smart took to Instagram to react to the news. “The funny side of this morning was I got to the state prison once it was already over, that was just due to a silly mix up. And the good news is she was not released,” she wrote at the time. “However, what I find troubling is that regardless of her threat level, she will be released in 2024, six years from now. It is possible that she could be paroled before then… hopefully not. I do not think I’m a vindictive or vengeful person, if change were truly possible in her case then perhaps parole/release could be justified.”

Still, Smart’s father, Ed Smart, said last week that the news of her early dismissal came as a shock. “We’re certainly surprised,” he said, “because we were told she was getting out in 2022.”

Elizabeth released a statement of her own at the time writing, “I was surprised and disappointed to learn of the pending release of Wanda Barzee,” she wrote on Sept. 11. “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 added, “I am trying to understand how and why this is happening and exploring possible options. I plan to speak publicly in the coming days once I have a better understanding. I appreciate the support, love, and concern that has already been expressed and will work diligently to address the issue of Barzee’s release as well as to ensure changes are made moving forward to ensure this doesn’t happen to anyone else in the future.”