Elizabeth Smart talks about her transformation from traumatized to empowered
EPHRAIM—The kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart was one of the most infamous cases of child abduction of its time, but despite her traumatic experience, Smart refused to let it hold her down and has risen from the ashes to tell the world that circumstances don’t define people.
Smart walked onto the stage of the Snow College Eccles Center on Thursday, Jan. 26 to talk to an overflowing auditorium about her tragic story and how she overcame adversity.
“No matter who you are, no matter where you’re from or no matter what your background is, we all have a story,” Smart said. “When you have a story, it generally means you have had problems in your life. We all have problems.”
As part of her message to the audience, Smart took them back to 2002. She was a 14-year-old girl on the brink of graduating from junior high.
It was a time when she had been lost in a world full of fear, doubt and ultimately, she says, with the desire to leave this world after she was kidnapped and had unspeakable acts performed upon her for a grueling nine months.
On June 5, 2002, Smart was kidnapped from her home by a “tall man dressed in black,” later found to be Brian David Mitchell, a known pedophile.
She says it was by happenstance that the alarms to her home had malfunctioned that night, enabling her assailant to walk her out of her home, free and clear, with a knife firmly pressed against her throat.
It was after a long trek in the woods behind her home that Mitchell had informally introduced her to his wife, Wanda Barzee, who Smart says gave her the feeling of a domineering woman.
Smart had described herself as the most “vanilla flavored person you’d ever meet” before she was taken from her home and told she was now Mitchell’s wife.
On the night of her abduction she had lost her innocence, all before begging and pleading with her abductor not to hurt her as she was still a young girl who “hadn’t even hit puberty yet.”
Some of the thoughts going through her head during her abduction make it obvious of just how young and innocent Smart was.
After the first act of sexual abuse, Smart says she had lain on the ground and wondered, among other things “Was my junior high graduation still going to happen without me?”
Over the course of several months, Smart said she had learned the art of manipulation from her abductors and had used that skill to get her back onto Utah soil, and ultimately back to her family on March 12, 2003.
Although she says she was grateful to be back in the presence of her family, she had feared that she might go to prison for having an affiliation with her abductors. She also says that upon initial contact with her father, she didn’t know how to respond verbally or physically.
But she says that it was through her mother’s unconditional love, the unconditional love of God and the dedicated support of the rest of her family that she was able to navigate her way through the healing process.
Now at 29, she is the author of the New York Times bestseller “My Story” and a child safety activist. She is also the founder of the Elizabeth Smart Foundation and has helped promote the national Amber Alert and the Adam Welsh Child Protection and Safety Act, as well as other recovery and support programs.
In 2012, Smart was married to Matthew Gilmour of Aberdeen, Scotland and had her first child, Chole, in 2015. Smart is due to have her second child in April.
“Because we all have something that’s gone wrong in our life—nobody has a perfect life—it’s not so much about what happens to you that defines who you are, it’s the decisions that you make. It’s the choices that you make that really define who you are,” Smart said.