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Kidnapping Survivor Elizabeth Smart Opens Up To Lafayette

Elizabeth Smart
(Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

Elizabeth Smart, who survived being kidnapped and raped at the age of 14 in 2002, came to the Hub City on Thursday to share her story and to “be that voice” to other sexual abuse survivors.

The discussion (after speaking she took questions from the audience) was hosted by Our Savior’s Church in Lafayette. The event was a fundraiser with proceeds benefiting Hearts of Hope’s three programs — the Children’s Advocacy Center, the Sexual Abuse Response Center and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners.

“What a blessing it is to have Hearts of Hope in this community,” said Smart. Hearts of Hope is an advocacy and counseling center for children and sexual assault victims.

After emcee Scott Brazda opened up the event, Ainsley Britain, who went to school at Westminster Christian Academy, performed her song “Heart of Hope.” (View her official music video below) Britain released an EP in 2011 where all proceeds went to Hearts of Hope. Smart was then introduced by Pastor Jacob Aranza’s wife, Michelle.

One of the first things Elizabeth Smart talked about was how hospitable people in this area are, which as we know is a very common reaction from people who visit us from out of state.

Smart then opened up by talking about how we all have problems in our lives. “Who doesn’t have problems?” she said. “We all do.” Then, she went into her story.

As she told her story, the poise and grace with which Elizabeth Smart told it was amazing. Smart described her childhood and her “pretty average family.” She lived in a close family in Salt Lake City, Utah. Her mother was someone she referenced quite often throughout her story. She talked about how her older brother, Charles, teased her on the night she was abducted for wanting to go to Beaver, Utah. Smart said she remembered being awaken that night, in her bed, with a knife across her neck. “It has to be a nightmare,” Smart remembered thinking. “I’m at home in my bed.” She said she kept wondering if her family was hurt…her sister was sleeping in the same room with her.

Brian David Mitchell
(Photo of Brian David Mitchell by Ravell Call-Pool/Getty Images)

Her abductor then brought her out of the house and into the mountains, Smart said. She followed all of his directions so that no one in her family would get hurt, which her captor said would happen if she made a sound. Smart said she began to bargain with him, asking him “if you’re just going to rape and kill me, could you just do it here?” so her family could know where she was after it happened. Immanuel, as her kidnapper called himself, but was later identified as Brian David Mitchell, then told her “I’m not going to do that just yet.”

“I don’t think I had ever prayed quite that hard as in that moment,” said Smart, as she recalled remembering Bible stories and how God could rescue her just like he did from the Israelites from the Egyptians. Her emotions, as you could imagine, could be heard in her voice and seen on her face as she told her story.

Smart said she was then brought to a tent, as a woman appeared and wanted to give her a sponge bath, to prepare her for what was to come. After she was ‘married’ to Mitchell, he raped her that night. “I will never forget how broken I felt,” she said. “How could anyone want me back?” she remembered thinking. She even said she wished she were one of the children who had been killed by their abductors, to take away the horrible feeling she had.

But what helped Smart get through it was her mom, “the voice I wanted to remember most.” She knew her mom would always love her no matter what. “I wanted to tell my family how much I missed them,” said Smart.

Nine months after that horrible night, Smart was finally rescued by police. There were times, she said, when the three of them, her, her abductor and the woman, went into town and ran across detectives. But she “answered the way I was told to answer” out of worry for her family. Finally, as officers brought her in for questioning, on what turned out to be the day of her rescue, one of them asked her if she indeed was Elizabeth Smart, to which she eventually said “Yes.”

Smart said she was handcuffed, which she joked about because she didn’t know why, and then told about what made this day one of the two most special days in her life. As she was wondering if she would be possibly going to prison, a door opened and her dad came in and asked “Is it really you?” She said that’s when she “knew no one would ever be able to hurt me ever again.”

Then came another special moment: seeing her mother again. After the phone Smart used to call her mom went dead, she finally got to see her again. “If I could describe that moment in one word: heaven,” said Smart. “My mom looked like an angel.”

And there was Charles, her brother, who said he felt horrible that the last thing he did to her before her kidnapping was tease her about going to Beaver, Utah, told her he loved her and, now, every time he teases her, Smart says he tells her he loves her.

Smart said her mom then gave her some great advice: “The best punishment you can ever give him (her abductor) is to be happy.”

And Smart told the audience she is “very happy.” She’s studying music at Brigham Young University, “doing what I want to do.” She also married Matthew Gilmour, who’s from Scotland, in a private ceremony in 2012 in Hawaii. That, she said, was the other special day in her life.

Smart finished up the evening by taking questions from the audience about adjusting back to life after the kidnapping, in which she cited her love of horse riding and music as helping her deal with the situation.

One thing that rang true throughout the evening is that she has refused to allow her kidnapper to have any control over her life. In fact, she is “so grateful” that she gets the opportunity to help those in need and show them her life as a testimony to overcoming whatever pain has been dealt their way.

I think Scott Brazda, a father of a young boy and a girl just entering her teen years, said it well to Smart as the evening came to a close: “I don’t want (my daughter) to have to live your life, but if she has to, I hope she’s just like you.”

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