In early June 2002, days before she was set to graduate from middle school, 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart was taken from her home in Salt Lake City, Utah, and held captive by street preacher Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee.
Chained to a tree in a campsite just miles from home, Smart was repeatedly raped, starved and forced to drink alcohol and view pornography. She was also sometimes brought to town as her captors acquired provisions, her face concealed by a veil, so near and yet so far from the worried family and volunteers who desperately combed the area.
But this was a rare horror story with a happy ending, as the clues led to the teenager's safe return less than a year after her disappearance. And despite the legal obstacles that threatened to indefinitely delay a trial, Smart eventually saw her captors receive their just punishment as she continued her remarkable recovery from the life-changing ordeal.
Here is a complete timeline of Smart's abduction and aftermath:
Fall 2001: Smart first encounters Mitchell
Smart and her mother, Lois, come across a clean-shaven Mitchell panhandling in downtown Salt Lake City. Lois hands over five dollars and says he can earn more by working on the family roof, an offer the beggar, who calls himself "Immanuel," accepts for a day job in November.
[Watch Elizabeth Smart: Autobiography on A&E Crime Central.]
June 5, 2002: Smart is kidnapped
Smart is jolted awake in the early-morning hours by a knife pressed to her throat and a voice ordering her out of bed. Her younger sister, Mary Katherine, is also awakened, though she remains motionless until rushing to their parents a few hours later.
Smart, who recognizes her now-bearded abductor as Immanuel, is forced on a grueling hike up the foothills behind her home until they reach a campsite, where they are "married" in a ceremony by Barzee.
June 14, 2002: Police arrest a potential suspect
Richard Ricci, a career criminal who also worked at the Smart home, is arrested for a parole violation, though he is not yet a formal suspect. Four weeks later he is charged with stealing jewelry and other items from both the Smarts and another family in the neighborhood.
July 24, 2002: Mitchell attempts to abduct Smart's cousin
Police are summoned to the home of Lois' sister after a daughter is awakened by someone cutting through a bedroom window. It is later revealed that Mitchell and Barzee were behind the attempted break-in, with Mitchell seeking to make Smart's 15-year-old cousin another bride.
August 30, 2002: Top suspect Ricci dies in prison
Three days after suffering a brain hemorrhage that left him in a coma, Ricci is removed from life support. Smart family spokesman Chris Thomas suggests that Ricci's death might motivate others harboring useful information to come forward. "Perhaps those people will now be more inclined to tell police what they know," he says.
September 2002: Mitchell, Barzee and Smart take a bus to California
The trio will spend the next several months in the San Diego area, moving between campsites and eating at homeless shelters. Smart later writes about Mitchell's attempt to kidnap another girl during this time.
Oct 12, 2002: Mary Katherine remembers her sister's abductor
The recollection comes as Mary Katherine thumbs through a Guinness Book of World Records. Upon coming to a page of a muscular woman, she suddenly remembers the homeless handyman who helped fix the roof the previous year, his voice identical to the one that ordered her sister out of their room on that traumatic night in June.
February 3, 2003: The Smart family publicizes Mitchell's police sketch
After clashing with authorities over the issue, the Smart family goes public with a sketch of "Immanuel." Police downplay the significance of releasing the sketch, but a woman soon comes forward to say that the suspect may be her brother, while Mitchell's stepson identifies him after seeing the sketch and a photo on the February 15 episode of America's Most Wanted.
February 2003: Smart persuades Mitchell to take them back to Salt Lake City
Following Mitchell's announcement that the family will move to a faraway city like New York or Boston, Smart shrewdly reveals her "belief" that God wants them to return to Salt Lake City. Mitchell agrees and soon has them hitchhiking back to Utah.
March 12, 2003: Smart is rescued and reunited with her family
Smart and her two captors are discovered walking the street in Sandy, Utah, a few miles from Salt Lake City. The teenager is taken to the police station in her hometown, where she joyfully reunites with her family.
July 26, 2005: Mitchell is found incompetent to stand trial
One year after Barzee is deemed unfit for trial, a state judge issues the same ruling for Mitchell, putting the case on hold as both are confined to Utah State Hospital.
March 5, 2008: Mitchell and Barzee are indicted on federal charges
A federal grand jury indicts Mitchell and Barzee on charges of interstate kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor across state lines. In October, after the state judge denies a request to forcibly medicate Mitchell, the case is transferred to the federal court system.
November 17, 2009: Barzee pleads guilty
Two weeks before another competency hearing commences for Mitchell, Barzee formally admits to her role in the kidnapping and enslavement of Smart. "I'm so sorry, Elizabeth, for all the pain and suffering I caused you and your family," she says in court. "It is my hope you will be able to find it in your heart and forgive me."
March 1, 2010: Mitchell is deemed competent for trial
After years of disrupting hearings by delivering admonishments and singing hymns, Mitchell is found competent to stand trial. "The evidence proves that Mitchell has the capacity to assist his counsel in his defense and the ability to behave appropriately in the courtroom," the federal judge writes in his 149-page ruling.
May 21, 2010: Barzee receives a 15-year sentence
Barzee is sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for kidnapping and sexual assault and one to 15 years at the Utah State Prison for the attempted kidnapping of Smart's cousin, the sentences to run concurrently. The defendant also receives a stern admonishment from Smart's mother: "What you did to our family and our girl Elizabeth was wrong. It was wrong, and it was evil," Lois tells Barzee. "You hurt our family in ways you'll never know."
November 1, 2010: Mitchell's trial begins
Mitchell's long-awaited trial on felony kidnapping, sexual assault and burglary charges begins with jury selection. A few days later, after the trial's sudden halt over a request for a new venue, an appeals court rules that proceedings can continue in Salt Lake City.
November 8-10, 2010: Smart tells her story in court
Returning from her international Mormon missionary work for three days of testimony, a composed Smart details the sexual abuse and horrific conditions she endured over nine months in captivity. She also recalls a situation in which she was nearly rescued by a detective in a library, but was too scared to ask for help.
November 18-19, 2010: Barzee testifies against Mitchell
Taking the stand as part of her plea deal, Barzee explains the "revelation" that drove her husband's desire to abduct girls until he had 350 wives, and describes how she followed orders to prepare the first campsite for Smart's arrival.
December 10, 2010: Mitchell is convicted
Rejecting the defense's insanity argument, the jury finds Mitchell guilty of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor across state lines for sexual activity. Smart, who is seen exchanging smiles with her mother when the verdict is announced, afterward says she is "thrilled" with the outcome.
May 25, 2011: Mitchell is sentenced to life in prison
Smart, who has launched the Elizabeth Smart Foundation to combat sexual violence, confronts her abductor shortly before he receives a life sentence for his crimes. "I know that you know what you did was wrong," she says. "You took away nine months of my life that can never be returned, but in this life or next, you will have to be held responsible for those actions, and I hope you are ready for when that time comes."
October 7, 2013: Smart authors a memoir
Now married, Smart publishes her first memoir of the ordeal, My Story. She follows with a second book in March 2018, Where There's Hope: Healing, Moving Forward, and Never Giving Up.
Sept. 19, 2018: Barzee is released from prison
Barzee is granted her freedom under the conditions that she registers as a sex offender and participate in a mental health treatment program. Smart, who'd voiced her opposition to the parole board's decision, follows with an Instagram post: "May we all remain vigilant in watching over our families, friends, and community from anyone who would seek to hurt or take advantage. I truly believe life is meant to be happy and beautiful, and no matter what happens that will remain my goal for me and for my family."