It has been nearly 20 years since Elizabeth Smart was rescued in Sandy, Utah after spending roughly nine months in captivity by her abductors – Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee. During those nine months, she was repeatedly raped, constrained, and threatened if she ever tried to escape.
Mitchell and Barzee abducted Smart – who was 14 years old at the time – from her home in the middle of the night on June 5, 2002. Her sister alerted her parents a few hours later and the search for Smart began that same day. By October, detectives had a suspect and the abduction had received national attention.
Smart was finally discovered on March 12, 2003 when someone recognized the two abductors from an episode of America’s Most Wanted. She was found less than 20 miles from her home and was returned to her parents. Mitchell and Barzee were arrested and sent to prison, but Barzee was released in 2018.
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On February 15th, Elizabeth Smart sat down with Juju Chang of Nightline to talk about how she turned her tragedy and trauma into triumph as the 20th anniversary of her rescue approaches. Despite her dark past, Smart now lives a normal life with her loving husband, Matthew Gilmour, and their three children.
“I have never allowed that to stand in my way of trying to make the world a better place for having me in it, than not,” she said of her life since being rescued. She says she’s just like everyone else and tries to live a normal life with her new family – she hates laundry, she loves good food, and she loves being at home.
As for the night of the abduction, she remembers hearing a voice whispering to her as she lay in bed. “I have a knife at your neck. Don’t make a sound. Get up and come with me,” she recalls Mitchell saying to her – adding that there was nothing in her life that could’ve possibly prepared her for that experience.
There were times during her captivity that she tried to lure the abductors to remain nearby her home – all in hopes of her family one day finding her, especially if she ended up dead. The last thing she wanted was for her parents to think she ran away. She also described the constant threats and abuse she endured.
Elizabeth Smart Reflects On the Day She Was Rescued
During the interview, Elizabeth Smart talked about the day she was rescued – which was made possible in part by America’s Most Wanted releasing a sketch of the suspect for the first time. It only took a few days for someone to recognize the suspect and only took a few hours for that tip to take its course.
“We were walking up State Street in Salt Lake City and I remember a police car pulling up. He was like, ‘There’s this girl and she’s been missing now for a very long time and her family has never stopped searching for her,’” she said. It took her a little while, but she eventually revealed her real identity.
A spokesperson for the Smart family explained giving her father that long-awaited phone call. Smart’s father was pacing outside the building where his daughter was and was too afraid to go inside. After they said his daughter was there alive and well, it didn’t take long for him to hang up the phone and enter.
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“It really was the first time I felt safe in nine months,” said Elizabeth Smart of the moment her father walked into that room. It was the first time she knew everything was going to be okay. In the two decades since, Smart has dedicated her life to activism and making sure no one goes through a similar experience.
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