Elizabeth Smart: 6 Years Later
For nine months, Elizabeth was held captive by her alleged kidnappers, a drifter and self-proclaimed prophet, Brian David Mitchell, and his wife, Wanda Barzee. Prosecutors say they kept Elizabeth tied to a tree just three and a half miles from her home.
Four months after her sister's disappearance, 10-year-old Mary Katherine miraculously remembered that a man once hired to work on the Smarts' house looked like the man who took Elizabeth. A sketch was released, and on March 12, 2003, Mitchell, Barzee and Elizabeth were spotted on the street in Salt Lake City. Elizabeth was rescued and returned home alive.
Mitchell and Barzee were charged with kidnapping and sexual assault but were found incompetent to stand trial. They are currently being held in a mental institution.
She attributes her incredible ability to cope to her family. When she first returned home, Elizabeth says her mother gave her advice that helped her move on. "'They already took nine months of your life away. Don't give them anymore.' So I just didn't think about being sad, because I was so happy to be home, and when my mom said that to me, I thought about it and tried to carry that out the rest of my life because I think that really is true," Elizabeth says. "I think if a person dwells upon something for so long, it will control them and it's harder for someone to move on with that."
From the beginning, Elizabeth says it was natural to be home. "It just kind of felt like I slipped right back in where I left off," she says. Elizabeth's parents, Ed and Lois, say they were surprised to find that Elizabeth could sleep through her first night home. Unlike Elizabeth, they had trouble falling asleep. "We kept checking to see that this was real," Ed says.
At school, Elizabeth says her old friends were able to go on as if everything was back to normal. However, she sensed that some people were unsure how to treat her at first. "I think when people still meet me today, people are not quite sure how to act. But it wears off pretty quick."
Elizabeth says she is no longer sorry about what happened to her. "Of course I would never wish it on myself or anybody else for that matter," she says. But Elizabeth says in a certain way her experience helped her understand that she had been living a sheltered life. "Having this experience, it really opened my eyes to the world around me to what really happens," she says.
Even when she feared for her life, Elizabeth says she felt a sense of peace. "I wasn't sure if I would ever see my family again. But I always knew that I was Ed and Lois Smart's daughter. That no matter what happened, they couldn't change that about me."
Elizabeth says her relationship with her family is still strong. "I am very close with both my parents. When I'm at school, I probably talk to them both once a day, if not twice a day," she says. Elizabeth says she is also close with her five siblings, especially Mary Katherine, who she has called her hero. "I'm very close with my sister Mary Katherine. I'd say maybe best friends. We have a lot of fun together."
Ed now works with radKIDS.org (Resist Aggression Defensively), a child safety program that uses certified instructors to train children and their parents on how to protect themselves from harm. "I think one of the biggest issues that our children face is that line of respect and that line of saying no. It doesn't matter if it's a religious pastor or your scout master or your neighbor," he says. "Kids have got to be able to learn to say no. And that's why radKIDS has become such a huge issue with me, because it teaches them to say, 'Nobody has the right to do this to me.' We have to ingrain it in our kids."
Click here for more information on radKIDS along with other child protection programs Ed wants you to know about.
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