Who Is Elizabeth Smart?
Born in Utah in 1987, Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her home at age 14 in June 2002. Held captive by a fanatic named Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee, Smart was repeatedly raped, drugged and forced to endure religious rituals, until earning her freedom in March 2003. She has since become a noted activist and author, launching the Elizabeth Smart Foundation in 2011 and authoring My Story in 2013.
Elizabeth Ann Smart was born into a devout Mormon family on November 3, 1987, in Salt Lake City, Utah. The second of six children of a successful real estate developer and a homemaker, Smart was known as a kind, smart, shy and obedient child. Her greatest passion was the harp, which she began playing at the age of 5 and practiced for hours each day.
By the time she reached middle school, Smart was sought out to perform as a harpist at local weddings and funerals, and she regularly participated in the annual fall concert at the Capitol rotunda in Salt Lake City. Smart was also a skilled equestrienne and distance runner who was training to compete in cross-country racing when she reached high school. She attended Bryant Intermediate School, where she was known as an intelligent and diligent student.
On June 4, 2002, Smart and her family attended an end-of-year awards ceremony at her school, where the 14-year-old won several awards for academics and physical fitness. Early the next morning, about an hour after midnight, Smart was awakened in the bedroom she shared with her younger sister Mary Katherine by the sound of footsteps and the feeling of cold metal against her cheek. A man whispered, "I have a knife to your neck. Don't make a sound. Get out of bed and come with me, or I will kill you and your family." The kidnapper, a man by the name of Brian David Mitchell, led Smart out of the house and marched her for hours through the forest to a camp where his wife, Wanda Barzee, was waiting.
Mitchell believe he was a prophet named Immanuel, and after performing a bizarre wedding ceremony—he was also a polygamist—he declared Smart to be his wife and raped her. "I tried to fight him off me," she later testified. "A 14-year-old girl against a grown man doesn't even out so much."
Mitchell and Barzee held Smart captive for the next nine months as they moved between California and Utah. Mitchell raped Smart daily—sometimes multiple times per day—and frequently kept her tethered to a tree. He forced her to consume vast quantities of alcohol and drugs and often did not feed her for days, bringing his captive to the brink of starvation. All the while, Mitchell attempted to indoctrinate Smart in his bizarre religious beliefs and convince her that he was a prophet.
Discovery and Rescue
The night of Smart's kidnapping, her younger sister Mary Katherine had pretended to be asleep in the other bed while silently attempting to observe her sister's kidnapper in the dark. "I stayed in bed," she recalled. "I was scared. I couldn't do anything. I was just shocked, petrified. I didn't know what to do, knowing someone had come into my bedroom and taken my sister."
After several months, it suddenly occurred to Mary Katherine that the kidnapper resembled a man who had once worked on their home as a handyman—a person who called himself Immanuel. Police discovered that Immanuel was a man named Brian David Mitchell, and in February 2003, the popular crime detective show America's Most Wanted aired his photograph in an episode.
On March 12, 2003, a passerby recognized Mitchell walking with Smart, who was veiled and wearing a wig and sunglasses. Authorities arrested Mitchell and his wife and returned Smart to her family that evening.
The prosecution against Brian David Mitchell stretched on for years, complicated by questions about his mental fitness to stand trial. Finally, on December 10, 2010, more than eight years after the kidnapping, a jury in a federal courtroom in Salt Lake City found Mitchell guilty of kidnapping and transporting a child across state lines for sexual purposes. He was sentenced to life in prison, and Brazee was sentenced to 15 years behind bars for her part in the crimes.
Remarkably, Smart managed to return to a relatively normal life shortly after rejoining her family. Only weeks after her return, she hiked with her family to the camp where Mitchell had taken her nine months before. "I felt great. I felt triumphant," she said of the experience.
"I don't think it's worth spending time in the past," she added. "It's not something I think about. If I feel like I want to [retell my story to someone], I will. But I don't have to. I don't talk about it much, I really don't care to."
Smart soon returned to the classroom and resumed her favorite activities. After graduating from high school in 2006, she enrolled at Brigham Young University to study music performance. Additionally, she became an activist on behalf of kidnapping survivors and child victims of violence and sexual abuse, recounting her inspirational story in interviews with Katie Couric and Oprah Winfrey, and eventually becoming a noted public speaker. Smart also helped to author the United States Department of Justice's 2008 handbook for kidnapping survivors, You Are Not Alone: The Journey From Abduction to Empowerment.
In 2009, Smart moved to Paris for her Mormon missionary trip, a period interrupted by a return to the U.S. to testify against Mitchell. It was in Paris that she met fellow missionary Matthew Gilmour, a native of Scotland. The two married in Hawaii in Feburary 2012, and went on to have two children together.
Foundation, Book and TV Projects
Smart in 2011 launched the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, which aims to empower children and provide resources and trauma support for victims and families. That year, she also was named a special correspondent for ABC News to report on missing persons and child abduction cases.
In October 2013, Smart released a memoir entitled My Story, highlighting the horrific ordeals that she encountered while she was kidnapped. Although the story delves into the inhumane treatment that she received from her captors, Smart wrote the book as a form of closure. "I want people to know that I'm happy in my life right now," she said to the Associated Press.
In 2017, A&E and Lifetime announced a cross-network event to commemorate the 15th anniversary of Smart's abduction. A&E's two-part Elizabeth Smart: Autobiography, set to air on November 12 and 13, promised to reveal previously untold details about the horrific experience and its aftermath. A dramatized version of the story will follow on November 18 with the Lifetime movie I Am Elizabeth Smart, starring Alana Boden as the young victim and Skeet Ulrich as Brian David Mitchell.
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