SALT LAKE CITY (KTVX) — Twenty years ago Sunday, March 12, Elizabeth Smart and her family were reunited after she was abducted from her home and separated from her family for nine months.
“When I was rescued, I couldn’t imagine thinking one day I’ll say, ’20 years ago.’ That just felt like an impossibility,” Smart said.
In June 2002, Smart was 14 when kidnappers stole her from her bedroom in Salt Lake City. Her kidnappers, Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee, took her captive for nine months. In March 2003, police found and rescued her in a Sandy neighborhood.
Mitchell was sentenced to life in prison, and Barzee was sentenced to 15 years and was released early on parole.
Now 20 years later, Smart says she feels fortunate.
“I don’t know who I would be if it hadn’t happened to me,” Smart said. “People are always like, ‘Oh, it’s so wonderful, you seem so healthy; it seems like you’ve really healed.’ I think, ‘Yes, thank goodness, thank God, yes, I have a wonderful life.’ But then I start thinking would I be here if it had been my dad who had been hurting me? If it had been a brother or an uncle or someone that I really trusted and that I really loved? Would I be sitting here smiling and talking and advocating? Probably not.”
In the past two decades, Smart has created the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, Smart Defense Program, and the We Believe You Campaign. She says her goal is to educate and spread awareness.
“How you respond to victims really can set the trajectory for whether they go on to receive the help they need, receive the support they need or whether they just kind of hold it inside, and it can quite literally destroy them from the inside out,” Smart said.
Celebrating 20 years later as a 35-year-old wife and mother of three, looking back brings perspective and looking forward brings hope.
“It is encouraging to see work going forward. It is encouraging seeing communities embracing the programs and embracing survivors starting to have these conversations and starting to have them on a bigger level, I think,” Smart said. “We have a long ways to go, maybe a forever way to go, but I’m determined to continue on.”