LAFAYETTE — Elizabeth Smart was 14 years old when a strange man carried her away from her Salt Lake City home at knife point and held her captive for nine months, raping the young girl and threatening to kill her and her family if she tried to escape.
Smart said that at times during the ordeal, she felt broken, crushed, not even human. But she told an audience at Our Savior’s Church on Thursday in Lafayette that she resolved not to let her captor control the rest of her life.
“We always have a choice to move forward and continue with our life by not letting what happened to us define us,” said Smart, who spoke at a fundraiser for Hearts of Hope, a nonprofit advocacy and counseling center for children and sexual assault victims.
She travels around the country speaking about the issue.
Smart’s abduction on June 5, 2002, captured national attention from the days after she disappeared until detectives spotted her walking down the street in Sandy, Utah, nine months later with Brian David Mitchell, who is now serving a life sentence for the crime.
“I remember a police car pulling up and then another,” Smart said, recounting the day of her rescue.
Smart said she had been approached by a detective before but was forced to wear a veil in public, and Mitchell had convinced the detective that removing it to see the girl’s face would be an affront to his religious beliefs.
“I had watched full trained detectives turn around and walk away,” Smart said, adding that she was too scared to reveal her identity to the officer because of Mitchell’s threats.
Smart said the same fears weighed heavy on her mind when police stopped to question her and Mitchell on March 12, 2003.
“Finally, one of the officers just looked at me and said, ‘Are you Elizabeth Smart?’” she said.
Within hours, she was reunited with her family.
“I remember seeing my mom. She looked like an angel,” Smart said.
Smart told the audience Thursday that she can still remember intricate details of the night she was abducted.
She lay in bed in a room with her younger sister and felt sharp, cold metal on her throat and heard someone whisper, “I have a knife at your neck. Don’t make a sound.”
Smart said she could not even process what was happening at first.
“I realized it wasn’t a nightmare. It was very real,” Smart said.
On the day of her abduction, Mitchell led her by knife point out of her back yard and to a makeshift tent camp in the mountains behind her home, where he raped her and bound her to a tree with a cable.
“There were days when I thought it would be easier to give up. It would easier to die right now,” she said.
But Smart said she always kept her mind focused on returning to her family.
“I think it’s important to never give up,” she said.
She recalled what her mother told her the morning after she was rescued.
“The best punishment you could ever give him is to be happy,” Smart said.