On June 5, 2002, Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped from her home in Salt Lake City, Utah. For nine months the abduction of the 14 year old lacked answers. Investigators, volunteers, and her family and friends searched for her and clues to her whereabouts, desperate to find her.
For those nine months, Elizabeth Smart was being held hostage by Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee. She was shackled to a tree with a metal cable to keep her from escaping the camp in the mountains that she was told she would now call home. Forced to put on a white robe, she could do nothing while her captor performed a wedding ceremony. Smart was to be the first of many virgin wives to the man who had taken her, who at the time she had heard the other woman, his wife, call ‘Emmanuel.’ He claimed to be an angel and that everything that was happening was part of a plan that ended in he and his virgin wives battling the Antichrist in seven years. Smart was forced to take on a new name; she chose Esther, taken after Esther in The Old Testament in the Bible. She was forced to consume alcohol and drugs to make her more compliant and repeatedly brutalized by the man who referred to himself as her husband.
Smart was taken many times into public with the two, especially after they relocated to San Diego after three months in the mountains. During that time, Mitchell had been thrown in jail for breaking into a church, but was released mere days later and continued to keep Smart his captive. Threats to her and her families’ lives kept her compliant, and a headscarf or veil to conceal her face kept her identity hidden.
On March 13, 2003, after nine months held captive, Smart was finally returned to her family. It took three years for Wanda Barzee to be sentenced to 15 years for the role she played in the kidnapping and it would be another year before Mitchell would be convicted in December of 2010. On May 25, 2012, nine years since Elizabeth had been rescued, Mitchell was convicted and sentenced to two life sentences in federal prison for the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart.
On Thursday, March 21, 2019, Elizabeth Smart was a guest speaker at Oakland University.
Smart, now 31 and a mother of three, travels and speaks of survival and hope. Recounting her harrowing tale, Smart delves into how she felt as it was all happening, explaining how a child’s brain processed the horrific events. Since being rescued she has also founded The Elizabeth Smart Foundation which is dedicated to preventing crimes against children and promotes The National AMBER Alert and The Adam Walsh Child Protection & Safety Act.
Smart was eloquent and well spoken as she stood in front of a sold out lecture hall at Oakland University. She went into detail about what happened, how she felt, why she did what she did, and how she has coped and turned it all around to help others. “Never start a question to a survivor with ‘Why didn’t you.’” Smart said. “All [a survivor] hears is ‘You should have.’ They hear blame… You don’t need to know what happened. You need to love them. You need to be there for them.”
When asked if she had forgiven the two who kidnapped her, a question that many have wanted the answer to, her answer was short, simple, and poetic. “If I stay angry… upset at what’s happened, it takes up a percentage of who I am. I want to live 100%. By staying angry, I can’t be 100%. I can’t allow what’s happened to take up a percentage of who I am. Have I forgiven them? Yes. But it was purely selfishly done.”
Smart concluded her appearance with a book signing. Those in attendance were able to speak briefly with her about her life and her inspirational story of survival.
Smart continues to speak out as an advocate for children, and write about her experiences. In 2018, the author released the follow up to her New York Times #1 bestseller My Story, titled Where There’s Hope, which can both be purchased on her website or you can donate to the Elizabeth Smart Foundation here.
Nearing the end of the evening, when asked for advice on how to deal with traumatic experiences and how to get through day to day life, Smart replied, “Take care of yourself…Take care of yourself and be okay with who you are.”