Remembering the Night Kidnapping Survivor Elizabeth Smart Shared Her Story With Lafayette, Louisiana
LAFAYETTE, La. (KPEL News) - Elizabeth Smart is a name the nation came to know and pray for in 2002 when she was kidnapped from her bedroom in Salt Lake City, Utah, on June 5th. She endured nine months of hell as she was forced to stay with a man who not only took her from her family but also raped her, all with a wife who was his accomplice.
Thankfully, Smart was rescued in Sandy, Utah, only a few miles away from her home. The day she was rescued: May 12, 2003 - 20 years ago.
With it being the 20th anniversary of her rescue, I decided to share a powerful moment in Elizabeth Smart's journey since then - the night she opened up to a captive audience in Lafayette, Louisiana. I covered the event for KPEL and became one of those captive members.
It was nearly 10 years ago on May 2, 2013, when Smart visited the Hub City to share her story and to "be that voice" to other sexual abuse survivors. The event - hosted by Our Savior's Church - was a fundraiser with proceeds benefiting Hearts of Hope, an advocacy and counseling center for children and sexual assault victims.
"What a blessing it is to have Hearts of Hope in this community," said Smart to the audience that night.
One of the first things Elizabeth Smart talked about that night was how hospitable people in this area are, which we know is a very common reaction from people who visit us from out of state.
Smart then opened up by talking about how we all have problems in our lives. "Who doesn't have problems?" she said. "We all do." Then, she went into her story.
As she told her story, the poise and grace with which Elizabeth Smart told it was amazing. Smart described her childhood and her "pretty average family." She lived in a close family in Salt Lake City. Her mother was someone she referenced quite often throughout her story. She talked about how her older brother, Charles, teased her on the night she was abducted for wanting to go to Beaver, Utah. Smart said she remembered being woken up in her bed with a knife across her neck. "It has to be a nightmare," Smart remembered thinking. "I'm at home in my bed." She said she kept wondering if her family was hurt. Her sister was sleeping in the same room with her.
Smart says her abductor then brought her out of the house and into the mountains. She followed all of his directions so that no one in her family would get hurt, which her captor said would happen if she made a sound. Smart said she began to bargain with him, asking him "if you're just going to rape and kill me, could you just do it here?" She said she just wanted her family to know where she was after it happened. Her kidnapper called himself "Immanuel." He was later identified as Brian David Mitchell. He told her "I'm not going to do that just yet."
"I don't think I had ever prayed quite that hard as in that moment," said Smart, as she recalled remembering Bible stories and how God could rescue her just like he did the Israelites from the Egyptians. Her emotions, as you could imagine, could be heard in her voice and seen on her face as she told her story.
Smart said she was then brought to a tent. A woman appeared and wanted to give her a sponge bath to prepare her for what was to come. After she was 'married' to Mitchell, he raped her that night.
I will never forget how broken I felt. How could anyone want me back?" she remembered thinking.
Smart even said she wished she were one of the children who had been killed by their abductors, to take away the horrible feeling she had.
What helped Smart get through it was her mom, "the voice I wanted to remember most." She knew her mom would always love her no matter what. "I wanted to tell my family how much I missed them," said Smart.
Nine months after that horrible night, Smart was finally rescued by police. There were times when the three of them - Smart, Mitchell, and his wife - went into town and ran across detectives. But she "answered the way I was told to answer" out of worry for her family. Finally, when officers brought her in for questioning on what turned out to be the day of her rescue, one of them asked her if she indeed was Elizabeth Smart. She eventually said "Yes."
Smart said she was handcuffed, which she joked about because she didn't know why, and then told about what made this day one of the two most special days in her life. As she was wondering if she would be possibly going to prison, a door opened and her dad came in and asked "Is it really you?" She said that's when she "knew no one would ever be able to hurt me ever again."
Then came another special moment: seeing her mother again. After the phone Smart used to call her mom went dead, she finally got to see her again.
If I could describe that moment in one word: Heaven. My mom looked like an angel.
And there was Charles, her brother, who said he felt horrible that the last thing he did to her before her kidnapping was tease her about going to Beaver. He told her he loved her. Now, every time he teases her, Smart says he tells her he loves her.
Smart said her mom then gave her some great advice:
The best punishment you can ever give him (her abductor) is to be happy.
Smart told the audience she is "very happy." At the time, she was studying music at Brigham Young University and "doing what I want to do." She also married Matthew Gilmour - who's from Scotland - in a private ceremony in 2012 in Hawaii. That, she said, was the other special day in her life.
Smart finished up the evening by taking questions from the audience about adjusting back to life after the kidnapping. She talked about her love of horse riding and music as they have helped her deal with the situation.
One thing that rang true throughout the evening is that she has refused to allow her kidnapper to have any control over her life. In fact, she is "so grateful" that she gets the opportunity to help those in need and to show them her life as a testimony to overcoming whatever pain has been dealt their way.
Now, Smart speaks all over the world about not only surviving the rape and kidnapping but in thriving since.
Scott Brazda was the emcee for the event. At the time, his son was very young and his daughter was just entering her teen years. As the evening came to a close, I'll never forget when he looked at Smart and told her "I don't want (my daughter) to have to live your life, but if she has to, I hope she's just like you."
Such a powerful moment in Lafayette that night.