Elizabeth Smart’s Chilling Story
By Brittany Hammond & Maureen Hunt
Elizabeth Smart recently visited the University of Missouri campus in Columbia where she shared her terrifying story of being abducted at the young age of 14.
Student writers Brittany Hammond and Maureen Hunt, on assignment for South Florida Opulence, attended Smart’s chilling yet inspirational presentation. The following are excerpts from Elizabeth’s talk and her new book My Story.
On a dreary day in November 2001, as Salt Lake City prepared for the Winter Olympics, bitter temperatures and event construction made for a scant crowd outside downtown department stores. It would have been difficult not to notice the juxtaposition of the beggar standing at a crosswalk next to the well-coiffed Lois Smart, with shopping bags and children in tow – including her shy blond-haired, blue-eyed, 14-year-old daughter Elizabeth.
Thinking the man was “down on his luck,” Mrs. Smart reached into her handbag for a $5 bill to give him. Young Elizabeth made eye contact with the stranger – whom she’d later come to know as Brian David Mitchell.
“I don’t remember a lot about him, but I do recall that he was clean-cut and well-groomed,” Elizabeth recalled in her book, which was presented during her talk at the University of Missouri. “No beard. No robes. No singing or talking about prophets or visions or being the ‘Chosen One.’ All of that would come later.”
Little did unassuming Elizabeth know that Mitchell had been sizing her up since the moment he saw her blond hair blowing in the wind. That his offering to make repairs at the Smart family home was merely a scheme to discover where the young girl lived and see where she slept. That the pay he earned from the work was to buy tools in preparation for a kidnapping: to make Elizabeth Smart his polygamous second wife. And that his escape ploy was to ditch his jeans and gym shoes for dirty sheet robes and leather sandals in order to masquerade as God’s prophet, the Chosen One.
The Fateful Day
Months later, on June 5, 2002, during the wee hours of the night when everybody at the Smart household was fast asleep, Mitchell climbed through their open kitchen window and found his way to Elizabeth’s room. Smart woke up to a bearded man who sneered, “I have a knife to your neck. Do not make a sound or I will kill you and
Keeping in mind the safety of her family and her nine-year-old sister, Mary Katharine, who was sleeping right beside her in bed, Elizabeth didn’t make a sound or shed a tear. With a knife held to her back, Mitchell marched Elizabeth out of her home and several miles away up to a campsite that he and wife Barzee had prepared in the mountains. It would be the outdoor dungeon where Elizabeth would spend many months in brutal captivity.
When they arrived at the campsite, Barzee (who was known to Elizabeth as Hepzibah) greeted her with a forced hug and then led her inside their tent. She washed the terrified teenager, informed her that her new name was Shearjashub, and forced her to put on a robe and veil – the only garments she would wear during the entire abduction.
The Unspeakable Abuse
Almost immediately after Elizabeth first donned the robe and veil, Mitchell ripped them off and raped her. Paradoxically, the veil used to disguise and demoralize the child, was also what would one day help lead to her chance for escape. “I remember so many overwhelming feelings and emotions,” Elizabeth said. “Terror that is utterly indescribable, even to this day. Embarrassment and shame so deep, I felt as if my very worth had been tossed upon the ground.”
For nine months of captivity, sheer fear lingered in Elizabeth’s mind. She endured experiences no child should ever know.
“Starving hunger. Fatigue and thirst, and a nakedness that bares one to the bones,” Elizabeth said. “Intruding hands. Pain and burning. The leering of his dark eyes. A deep longing to see my family. A heartbreaking yearning to go home.
“Brian David Mitchell slipped too easily in and out of prophecy for it to ever be his actual state of mind,” Elizabeth wrote, years after the incident and trial. “He simply used the culture and language of religion to manipulate people in order to get what he wanted… He is an antisocial and narcissistic pedophile. He is not clinically psychotic or delusional. He is just an evil man.”
What sustained Elizabeth was knowing her family’s and God’s love could never be stripped from her – even though everything else has been.
After a few months of captivity, Mitchell finally allowed Barzee and Elizabeth to leave their campsite and go into public. But soon after, with the cold winters in Utah, Mitchell and Barzee agreed they needed to move to California. In order to find the most cost and time efficient way to reach their new destination, the three of them visited a local library. A man approached the unusual trio, questioning why they were wearing the veils. Mitchell insisted it was for their religion. Why didn’t Elizabeth seize this opportunity to escape?
The simple but crippling reason: Fear for her family’s safety. Mitchell’s words were forever branded in Elizabeth’s memory: “I will kill your brothers and your sister. I will kill your mom and dad. I will plunge my knife in and I will turn it! I will kill them all!”
After the near detection in the library, Mitchell decided they would leave for California immediately. He bought bus tickets with money he had panhandled. For the first time, Elizabeth said she began to lose hope. She would be in a completely different state and didn’t think anyone would recognize her.
But Elizabeth’s faith in God and love for her family was stronger than ever. She said it was a survival tactic to do everything Hepzibah and Mitchell told her to do.
Day after day, Elizabeth was repeatedly raped and abused. She was forced to drink alcohol, smoke and was often left without food or water. After a long, harsh winter, Mitchell claimed God told him they needed to move again. But he didn’t know where. A swift-thinking Elizabeth suggested to Mitchell that he ask God if they should go back to Salt Lake City. Mitchell prayed about it and “spoke with God,” and then the final decision was made – they were going back to Salt Lake City, to the camp in the mountains.
Return to Salt Lake City
Filthy and odorous, the vagabonds hitchhiked and took buses in route to Salt Lake City. Elizabeth stared at the ground, knowing people were staring at her. Upon arrival, Mitchell led the way into a Wal-Mart, where he stole new hiking boots and whatever he could cram into his backpack. Elizabeth stared at the photos of missing children on the wall. “Am I up there?” she asked herself.
Mitchell squeezed the young girl’s shoulder until she grimaced in pain. “You are not up there. No one remembers you or cares about you anymore. You are mine,” he ranted in a threatening whisper.
After walking two blocks from the Wal-Mart, a police car pulled up and stopped behind Mitchell, Barzee and their young prisoner. And then two more police cars arrived. Elizabeth prayed the officers would recognize her and capture Mitchell and Barzee. She was too terrified to admit who she really was to the officers, until they separated her from Mitchell and Barzee. Once alone with a police officer, the veiled girl was asked again, gently, “Are you Elizabeth Smart? Because if you are, your
family has missed you so much since you were gone! They want you back. They love you. They want you to come home.”
She finally gained the courage to answer truthfully, “I am Elizabeth Smart.”
But what happened next wasn’t what she expected. The police nofficer handcuffed her and put her in the back of his squad car.
In silence, the officers drove Elizabeth to the police station, where she was led to a room without windows and told to remove her veil. The policeman left the room. A confused and scared Elizabeth thought, “Are they going to call my parents? Are they going to send me to prison?”
The Family Reunion
A few grueling minutes later, the door to the room flung open. “My Dad was standing there!” Elizabeth revealed in her book. “He looked at me as if he were seeing a ghost…Then my daddy ran to me and grabbed me and hugged me as only a father can.”
Elizabeth’s mother and siblings were summoned. “It was all of the crying and hugging and laughing all over again,” Elizabeth remembered. “It was one of those rare moments that is pure and incomprehensible joy.”
After this freedom and reunion, Elizabeth was able to continue this same optimistic and positive outlook on life with the help of her mom, who said, “The best punishment you can give him [Mitchell] is your being happy. What that man has done is terrible and he does not deserve one more second of your life. You keep every second for yourself. You keep them and be happy. God will take care of the rest.”
The book “My Story” by Elizabeth Smart with Chris Stewart is available at www.amazon.com.