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Returned wife said she didn't plan leaving

FAIRHOPE (AP) — A minister's wife who disappeared from a religious conference in Louisiana, only to be located four months later living in New York, knows she made a "serious mistake" by leaving and has returned home to Alabama to be with her two children, her lawyer said Thursday.

Mary Elizabeth Byrne Smith, 30, didn't plan her mysterious departure and acted upon "emotional distress in her personal life," attorney Robert Stankoski said in a statement.

"While her actions may have seemed illogical, it was a very difficult decision for Mrs. Smith to leave her children, whom she loves very much, and forgo any additional communication," he said.

Smith accompanied Stankoski during the news conference but did not address reporters.

Smith, a kindergarten teacher whose husband is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Summerdale, vanished in March while attending a Christian women's conference with friends in Bossier City, La. She excused herself to go to the restroom and wasn't seen again.

Police this week said they had tracked her to New York state after the educator requested her teaching certificate from Alabama.

Police in Bossier City said Smith had been having problems with prescription drugs and felt estranged from her husband. In New York, she was working in a fast-food restaurant under an assumed name and had no plans to return to Alabama, they said.

Stankoski denied Smith was using an alias or was attempting to conceal her location. She found work and housing through public assistance offered by the city and state of New York, he said. "In fact, Mrs. Smith was holding three different jobs through the week and on the weekend."

The attorney said Mrs. Smith looked forward to correcting "misstatements made about her marital and personal life."

In Bossier City, police Sgt. Jimmy Stewart said his extensive conversations with Smith after she was located had "changed my life."

"She has instilled in me a faith in people. I think she's a very good person, and I wish her the best in life," said Stewart, who declined to reveal anything Smith had told him. "I may never hear from Beth Smith again, but I'm sure she'll do fine."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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