TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) – To a crowd full of strangers she will always be “that girl who was kidnapped”, but Elizabeth Smart refuses to be the victim. “Sometimes bad things happen that are totally out of our control but that doesn’t mean good can’t come from them,” Smart told News 10’s Lindsey Yates during an exclusive interview.
On Monday night, Smart took the stage at Tilson Auditorium as part of a speaker series at Indiana State University. “People are not defined by what happens to them but rather by what they do,” she told the audience.
Smart’s story began on June 5, 2002. The simple life the 14-year-old had always known would vanish the moment she was abducted at knife-point from her Salt Lake City, Utah home. Smart was taken into the woods, where a bizarre marriage ceremony was performed. Smart spent the next nine months at the mercy of her radical captors.
“No matter what, my parents would always love me. My family would always love me and when I realized they couldn’t change that, or take that away, I knew I had something worth surviving for,” said Smart when asked what gave her the will to survive.
During her time in captivity, Smart was tied up and sexually assaulted. She was under constant threat against her and her family’s lives.
“There was so many times I wanted to give up. There were so many times I wanted to say I can’t do this anymore. Somehow, I would make it through that day, and I made it through nine months, and I couldn’t be happier to be here,” said Smart.
The torture would come to an end in March 2003. Smart was recognized, rescued by police, and returned home to her family, after her sister recalled a memory from the night of the abduction. She’d been taken by a man who had done some repair work on the family’s home, a self-proclaimed prophet named Brian David Mitchell.
She later testified against Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee. “I knew I would never be the same person again, that was the most difficult part,” said Smart.
Mitchell was sentenced to life in prison without parole for his crimes. Barzee was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for her role in the kidnapping and sexual assault of Smart.
Turning tragedy into triumph, the 29-year-old spends her days advocating for missing children. Smart uses her story to speak up for those without voice. “Isn’t it better to help someone else and make a difference than to just be selfish and pretend it didn’t happen?”
Smart shares even the most intimate details in hopes of helping others overcome unthinkable challenges. She also opens up about her abduction and rescue in her memoir, “My Story.”
“Everyone has a story. We can keep going. We can overcome it, and we don’t have to allow what’s happened to us, or what will happen to us, to define who we are,” said Smart.
Now studying music with an emphasis on harp at Brigham Young University, Smart serves as a correspondent for ABC News and collaborated with the Department of Justice to create the survivor’s guide, “You’re Not Alone: The Journey From Abduction to Empowerment.”