SALT LAKE CITY, March 12 — Elizabeth Smart was home tonight with her family, more than nine months after she was abducted from her bedroom in the middle of the night.
"She's grown a lot," her father, Edward Smart, said after a tearful reunion with Elizabeth at a police station in Sandy, about 15 miles south of here, where the girl was found this afternoon.
"She is so thrilled to be back," Mr. Smart, a real estate developer, said, crying as he spoke. "I am so grateful for the prayers, the help and the eyes out there."
Police officials in Sandy said Elizabeth, who is now 15, was discovered after they were led by several tips to a man they identified as Brian David Mitchell, 49, who had been known to the Smart family as Emmanuel when he once worked at their home as a handyman.
Mr. Mitchell was taken into custody on suspicion of aggravated kidnapping, along with his wife, Wanda Eileen Barzee, the authorities said. He had been a suspect in the case for months.
The return of Elizabeth set off celebrations and vigils across Salt Lake, as most everyone spoke of miracles and the power of prayer. In the back of many minds were the deep fears that the girl had been murdered, like others who were kidnapped across the country that same dark summer.
The elation today was accompanied by unsettling and for now unanswered questions about Elizabeth's ordeal and the handling of her disappearance by the Salt Lake City police department, which some complained was too slow to focus on Mr. Mitchell.
In an interview tonight on a local television station here, her father said that it was too early to know whether Elizabeth had been brainwashed or somehow turned against her family.
"I don't know," Mr. Smart said. "I am just praying she will be O.K. You just can't imagine what this type of person might make her think or believe."
Rick Dinse, the Salt Lake City police chief, said at an afternoon news conference in which local, state and federal officials did little to hide their exuberance, that the girl was "very alert." "It was emotional, exciting and thrilling for everybody," Chief Dinse said. "Her parents were in tears. I saw her in tears. As you can imagine, she was very excited. It was the kind of reunion you would expect."
But Chief Dinse declined to discuss any details of Elizabeth's ordeal, saying investigators were only beginning to learn what happened from the moment she disappeared, on June 5, 2002, to her discovery today. He said the authorities did not yet know any possible motives for her kidnapping, the circumstances of Elizabeth's life during her captivity or her current psychological state. He would not say whether Elizabeth knew how hard her parents had been searching for her, whether she had been abused, whether she ever tried to escape, or whether she was under the influence of drugs.
"Do I believe that Elizabeth was held against her will? At this point, yes, I do," the chief said.
Tom Smart, an uncle of Elizabeth's, said: "Absolutely, it's a miracle. We've always believed miracles exist. The odds that they happen are extreme, but I don't think any little girl was prayed for more in the history of the world."
"Thank God! Thank God!" Tom Smart said to about 400 reporters, Smart family neighbors and well-wishers who packed the grounds at a Mormon church here where the family has both worshipped and, for many months after the kidnapping, held daily news conferences.
Behind and all around them, trees were festooned with blue balloons and hundreds of yards of blue ribbon, and signs that read, "We love you, Liz."
"In the history of the world, no little girl has ever been prayed for as much as Elizabeth," Cynthia Smart-Owens, Elizabeth's aunt, said.
A family spokesman, Chris Thomas said the family had told him that for part of the time Elizabeth "camped and traveled around to different parts of the country."
Mr. Thomas, who was at the reunion of the family, said that Elizabeth was "very sharp and very articulate."
"It's like she was at school," Mr. Thomas said, "She had questions about how her brothers and sisters were doing. Like Andrew got straight A's. That surprised her."
Mayor Ross C. Anderson of Salt Lake City called it "a great day for the people of Salt Lake City and throughout the nation." He praised the fortitude of Elizabeth's parents, Edward and Lois, who never doubted their daughter was still alive and who thanked all those who prayed for her safe return.
"They believe those prayers were answered today," Mr. Anderson said of the Smarts.
Paul Warner, the United States attorney for Utah, said that the case would be considered a kidnapping and that the suspects would be prosecuted "vigorously and aggressively to the fullest extent of the law."
Witnesses said that when Elizabeth was found, she was wearing a wig and walking with the two suspects. A police spokeswoman said that two area women had called the police to say they believed they had recognized "Emmanuel" after seeing a police sketch that was first circulated last month.
The discovery of Elizabeth, who was 14 when she disappeared, concluded a search that mystified investigators.
At the time of her disappearance, she was the latest in a chilling series of child abductions that included those of Danielle van Dam, 7, of San Diego, and Samantha Runnion, 5, of Orange County, Calif., both of whom were later found murdered.
In the months after Elizabeth's disappearance, thousands of people on foot and horseback, or in planes and helicopters, combed hills and valleys around the state. With the Smart family offering reward money and holding periodic news conferences to ask for help and information, the police said more they received more than 16,000 tips.
Through much of the investigation, the police in Salt Lake City focused on Richard A. Ricci, another handyman who had worked at the Smart home. He was arrested on a parole violation last summer and died in jail after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage in August. Mr. Ricci, and his widow, Angela, insisted he had nothing to do with the girl's disappearance. Members of the Smart family frequently expressed skepticism that Mr. Ricci had any involvement in Elizabeth's abduction, and they were critical of the Salt Lake City police for discounting the possibility that someone other than Mr. Ricci might have been responsible.
The family's opinion was based on the account of the only witness in the case, Elizabeth's 9-year-old sister, Mary Katherine, who shared the bedroom and said she pretended to be asleep when Elizabeth was led away at gunpoint. Mary Katherine said that the man had threatened to harm Elizabeth if her younger sister made any noise or notified her parents, who were asleep in another room.
Family members said Mary Katherine never claimed to have had a clear view of the man who came into their room. But she had described features to investigators that bore a closer resemblance to Mr. Mitchell than Mr. Ricci.
At the conference today, Chief Dinse was pressed on whether the police had focused too much on Mr. Ricci and not enough on the man they family knew as Emmanuel. But he brushed aside the suggestions, saying, "I've always said that until I can charge somebody with this crime, everybody is a suspect."
He also defended the police department's decision to wait until last month to release a drawing of the suspect. He said investigators had received several different descriptions of the suspect.
Last month, when the sketch was released, the Smart family held a news conference, and Mr. Smart said there were ample reasons to consider Mr. Ricci a suspect.
But he cited Mary Katherine's unwavering account, describing a man in the bedroom who had been about "the height of her brother Charles," who is 5-foot-8. Mr. Ricci was more than 6 feet tall. Mr. Smart also said Mary Katherine had described a man with hair on the back of his hands and with a voice that "did seem familiar."
At one point last fall, Mr. Smart said, Mary Katherine came to her parents and said, "Daddy, I think I know who it might be" and she identified a man who worked in the home, raking leaves and fixing the roof. The family hired the man, whom they came to know as Emmanuel, after Lois Smart saw him panhandling on a downtown Salt Lake City street.
In recent weeks, the Smarts' displeasure with the Salt Lake City police's approach to the investigation boiled into public, when Tom Smart criticized investigators.
Tom Smart was quoted on Tuesday in The Salt Lake Tribune, saying of the police, "They should have caught that guy by now." He accused the police of being "too vested" in theories involving Mr. Ricci.
Little is known about the couple in custody. Mr. Mitchell has been described as a drifter and handyman with deep religious beliefs.
In the Federal Heights neighborhood where the Smarts live, signs sprang up within minutes of Elizabeth's recovery, saying, "Welcome Home" and "We Love You."
Tonight some of her father's siblings came out of the house and gave an impromptu news conference.
In her first night back at home, they said, Elizabeth was relaxing in her pajamas, and the family had gathered at the piano, playing chopsticks.
The family showed Elizabeth e-mail message and newspaper clippings from the past nine months.
Elizabeth said she had seen baby blue ribbons around town, Tom Smart said, but she did not know they were for her.