Elizabeth Smart: Kidnapping was a defining life moment
Elizabeth Smart says being abducted from her bedroom at knife-point seven years ago was a defining moment in her life -- an experience that made her realize how much she loved and appreciated her parents and family.
And, speaking Thursday at the 22nd Annual Crime Victims' Conference at the Capitol, Smart suggested "victims" should instead be called "survivors."
The 21-year-old Brigham Young University music student told more than 200 conference attendees about being awakened by "something cold and sharp" against her neck in the early hours of June 5, 2002.
"Don't make a sound," said the bearded man in a stocking cap, who grabbed her shoes, took her outside and forced her to hike into the hills behind her Federal Heights home in Salt Lake City.
After realizing, "This is not a prank. This is real," Smart says she prayed: "Heavenly Father, help me. Help me find a way to escape."
She then tried to reason with her captor, telling him that when he was caught, he would be thrown in prison. But if he let her go now, Smart offered to say something in his behalf.
Smart then came to believe, "I'm going to be raped and he's going to kill me and five years from now they'll find my remains in a ditch. ..."
Deciding it would be better to get it over with, she told the man, "If you're going to do it, do it now." But the man replied, "I've got something else in store for you."
According to police, Smart's abductor was a homeless religious fanatic Brian David Mitchell, who wanted the girl for a plural wife.
For nine months, Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Eileen Barzee kept the then-14-year-old girl captive while camping in the foothills east of Salt Lake City, traveling to California and then returning to Utah the following year.
Smart recalled being "trapped" on a mountainside in San Diego with Barzee while Mitchell went to the city in search of drugs and alcohol. She said it was a common experience, except that this time Mitchell failed to return for a week.
Smart said she collected rain water in a tarp one day, but it was "like something pulled out of [the lake at the city's] Liberty Park." At one point she was too weak to stand and she worried, "If I don't die from the water, I'll die from starvation."
Smart was rescued March 12, 2003, after the trio was spotted walking on a Sandy city street.
Mitchell and Barzee were charged with first-degree felony counts of kidnapping, burglary and sexual assault. Both defendants' cases have stalled because of questions about their mental competency.
Smart said that shortly after returning to her family, her mother pulled her aside and said, she had given nine months to her captors, and shouldn't give them any more time.
By experiencing the depths of pain, sorrow and despair, Smart said she is also able to feel the extremes of joy and happiness.
Having recently returned from four months of study in London, she said she is now "trying to figure out what my next dream is."
She recognized the efforts of those attending the two-day conference, saying: "Each survivor deserves a new chance at life."
Smart was honored with standing ovations at the beginning and end of her 20-minute presentation.
Copies of a survival guide for kidnap victims co-authored by Elizabeth Smart were distributed to those who attended a crime victims' conference this week at the state capitol.
During a keynote speech on Friday, Smart said she was pleased with how the publication had turned out and hoped it would help other victims move ahead with their lives.
You're Not Alone: The Journey From Abduction to Empowerment, was written by Smart and four others who were abducted as children. The book was published by the U.S. Department of Justice.