Kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart partners with app designed to help find missing people faster
While she was being held captive, Elizabeth Smart says she envisioned her rescue as something out of an action movie. He imagined helicopters buzzing overhead and law enforcement in combat gear pushing the ground.
But that’s not what happened.
Instead, in 2003, nine months after Smart was abducted from his childhood bedroom in the wee hours of the morning, two different couples saw a suspicious-looking man with two women at a bus stop. Both couples called the police, who responded quickly. The man, Smart’s captor, Brian David Mitchell, and his accomplice, Wanda Barzee, were taken into custody after police became suspicious that the third woman was the missing Smart.
“[My rescue] only everyday people were watching, they saw something strange [and] to call the police,” Smart said via a Zoom video call. “I think it’s actually much, much more powerful than any action movie I can conjure up in my head.”
It’s been almost 20 years since Smart’s rescue, and much of that time has been dedicated to advocacy work — raising awareness and education about missing persons situations, developing resources for survivors, and more.
After experiencing the power and potential of the community, Smart was immediately intrigued by Guardian, an app developed by Q5id that aims to find missing people. The developers told Smart that they want to harness the power of everyday people and the community.
“Elizabeth Smart’s story is one of the best-known child abductions in the world,” Becky Wanta, Q5id’s chief information and technology officer, told me in an email interview. “She continues to make great strides towards safety and advocacy for missing children, sexual abuse and exploitation. She is an absolute inspiration to us and there was no question that she would be the perfect person to help expand and support our mission .
What is the Guardian app?
The Guardian app, which launched in the US in November, aims to help families find missing loved ones more quickly. If someone goes missing, the user can create an alert that is immediately displayed to other users nearby.
In the case of a missing person, every second counts. If the person is not found within the first 24-48 hours, the chances of being found alive are drastically reduced.
“The sooner you get notified about your missing child or loved one, the better your chances of finding them,” says Smart.
He emphasized that the Guardian app is not intended to compete with the Amber Alert system, where he began his advocacy work after being rescued. However, an amber alert has specific criteria that must be met before the alert can go off. For example, the missing person must be 17 years of age or younger, there must be evidence that the child is in danger, law enforcement must have enough descriptive information about the missing child to raise an alert, and the child’s name and information must be present. has already entered the National Crime Information Center.
“If you have to wait, it eats away at finding someone,” says Smart. “That’s right [the Guardian app] it almost goes hand in hand with the Amber Alert because it enables [a notification] to go out immediately.”
This means the Guardian app can be used in run-of-the-mill situations and for loved ones with Alzheimer’s or dementia, as well as suspected kidnapping cases.
How does the app work?
The Guardian app is designed to harness the power of everyday people for the everyday person. While some have the time and means to volunteer their search, many more balance a full-time work week, family, and everyday life. According to Smart, the Guardian app is for them.
“It’s a simple way to make a huge difference,” says Smart.
When you download the Guardian app, you must allow location services to receive notifications.
Enter your phone number and the app will send you a verification code. From there, the system asks you to use your device’s camera to scan your face, right and left hands, and your ID card or passport. You should also record a short video and audio sample. From there, you can log into the app without a password by scanning your face or palm.
Even if you don’t subscribe to the premium level of the app, you still need to verify your identity. If you ultimately wish to opt out of the app, please contact [email protected] and request the removal of your information. (You can view Q5id’s full privacy statement here.)
The purpose of the verification process is to prevent predators from connecting to your application. Anyone wishing to join the Guardian community is regularly checked on the National Sex Offenders Register during and after registration. According to Q5id’s website, people on the National Sex Offenders Register are not allowed to join the Guardian community.
“Your information is safe,” Wanta said. “This is a community of verified people you can trust. We only store what is necessary to verify who you say you are and the information needed to find a missing loved one. We never sell or share your information.”
Wanta says biometric authentication and identity verification help protect systems accessed by users, but biometric data is not stored. In addition, all data in Q5id’s database is end-to-end encrypted to protect against theft, misuse or decryption.
Send an alert
You must be a Guardian Plus user to alert the Guardian community that your loved one is missing. Guardian Plus is free for the first month, then costs $4 a month, and according to the website, a portion of the proceeds go to the app’s partners, such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Dementia Society of America and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
Q5id recommends setting up profiles for your loved ones ahead of time. If you are a Guardian Plus subscriber, you can issue an alert as follows:
1. Create a profile for the missing person in the app
2. Tap the Create an alertwhich the Loved ones on page or a Warnings sheet
3. Select your loved one’s profile
4. Include additional details such as what the person is wearing, any identifying marks, etc.
5. Enter the location where the person disappeared
6. Tap the Send an alert
The app also notifies you when a volunteer responds to your alarm.
Receive an alert
Both Guardian Plus and Guardian Volunteers – free tier users – can see alerts issued by other members. Once you turn on push notifications in the app, you’ll receive location-based alerts in your immediate area.
While saving the action movie style makes for a good movie, Smart says the power of everyday citizens shouldn’t be underestimated.
“If we keep our eyes open and pay attention, how much more [missing people] do we bring it home like we’re just waiting for the superhero to trick us?”