A Fight For Survival
Elizabeth Smart Shares Her Inspiring Tale At Bridgewater College
Posted: February 26, 2013
BRIDGEWATER — The day after being kidnapped from her Salt Lake City home, raped and bound by one ankle with a metal cable, a 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart made a decision that helped her through nine subsequent months of captivity — she would survive.
“I decided that no matter what it took, I would do it,” Smart told a packed auditorium at Bridgewater College Monday. “As long as I had it within my power, I would survive. That decision saw me through a lot.”
Smart, whose abduction from her bedroom and discovery nine months later garnered major media attention, shared her harrowing tale of survival during a presentation at Bridgewater College Monday night.
Smart is now a 25-year-old advocate for child abduction recovery programs and preventive measures, and uses her story to promote her efforts. She is involved with the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, an organization aimed at stopping and preventing predatory crime. And she has helped promote AMBER Alerts, the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act and other legislation to prevent abductions.
“I am so grateful that I know what it’s like to be in that position so I can say, ‘yes that’s a problem, we need to do something about it,’” Smart said. “I am so grateful that I can be a voice for child advocacy.”
Jeff Pierson, who organized the event, said he wasn’t expecting the large crowd that lined up outside of Cole Hall’s doors by 6:15 p.m. for the 7:30 p.m. event. After the main venue in Cole Hall filled up, audience members were directed to a room where the speech was showing on a screen. By 7:20 p.m., those arriving were being turned away.
“I expected a few people in line, but not half the college in line,” Pierson said before introducing Smart.
Audience members looked on as Smart recounted her nightmare from the beginning, when on the night of June 5, 2002, as she was sleeping in bed with her younger sister, she heard a voice.
“I just couldn’t believe it. It had to be in my dream, it had to be a nightmare,” she said. “Then I heard the voice again and this time I realized it was not part of my dream. It was very real. [He said], ‘I have a knife at your neck, don’t make a sound, get up and come with me.’ I felt the knife lying across my neck; I could feel its edge on the tip of my skin.”
Smart was led up into the Utah mountainside where her abductor, Brian David Mitchell, and wife Wanda Barzee lived in a makeshift camp. On the first day, Mitchell “married” Smart, raped her and tied her up so she couldn’t escape.
“I’ll never forget how I felt lying on the floor,” Smart said. “Feeling like I was worthless, I was filthy, like there was no point in continuing on. … I remember falling asleep thinking about [child rape and murder victims] and thinking how lucky they were that they were dead. They didn’t have to feel worthless or unlovable. They were the lucky ones.”
But Smart drew strength from her memories of friends and family, she said, particularly her mother’s promise to love her always, no matter what.
“I realized that it was something worth living for,” Smart said. “It was something worth surviving for.”
For the next nine months, a malnourished Smart was raped regularly and traveled in public wearing a long robe and a veil alongside her captors, who threatened to kill her and her family if she tried to escape or didn’t obey their rules.
Through their travels the trio ended up in California and as Mitchell and Barzee talked of moving to Boston or Philadelphia, Smart stroked Mitchell’s ego and manipulated them to move back to Salt Lake City.
“[I thought], I’m not going to be rescued. If I want to be rescued I have to get back to Utah,” she said.
One day after they hitchhiked back to Utah, several people reported seeing Smart walking with two people. She was rescued later that day, March 12, 2003. At first reluctant to identify herself to police, still fearing a backlash from her captors, Smart was separated from Mitchell and Barzee, identified herself and was reunited with her family.
“I remember sitting [in the police station] wondering what was going to happen to me next,” Smart said. “The door flew open and my dad came running into the room and for a second he stopped and looked at me. He came over and he grabbed me. He said, ‘Elizabeth, is that really you?’ Both of us just started to cry our eyes out.”
Mitchell is now serving life in prison for his crimes and Barzee was sentenced to 15 years for her involvement in the kidnapping. Smart testified about what happened to her at Mitchell’s trial. Today, Smart lives by one important piece of advice given to her by her mother shortly after her return.
“My mom said to me, ‘What this man has done to you is terrible and there aren’t words strong enough to describe how terrible and wicked he is,’” Smart said. “This will go on through the courts and some kind of sentencing will be ruled. … The best punishment that you could ever give him is to be happy, is to follow your dreams, to do exactly what you want to do.”
For Smart, that meant marrying her “prince charming” Matthew Gilmour a year ago, graduating from Brigham Young University and empowering others through the work she does to end child victimization.
“We always have a choice,” she said. “We can choose to move forward, we can choose to be happy, we can choose to keep going.”
Contact Emily Sharrer at 574-6286 or email@example.com