Elizabeth Smart shares message of hope 20 years after her rescue

Mar 7, 2023, 6:56 PM

SALT LAKE CITY — Twenty years ago this week, Elizabeth Smart was rescued on the streets of Sandy by alert Utahns. Her discovery brought an end to nine months of horrors that she endured at the hands of her captors.

In a one-on-one interview, Smart spoke about how she survived the continuous abuse, and the lasting message from her ordeal.

“Hope. I hope it’s hope,” Smart said. “To never give up. I mean, I came back. After nine months, I was found.“

Many people living in Utah 20 years ago remember where they were when they heard that Elizabeth Smart had been found alive. There was a sense of elation but also disbelief because it was almost unimaginable that Smart would be found alive. After all, she had those feelings herself.

“I remember just being terrified, and at the same time, thinking this couldn’t possibly be real,” she said.

The 15-year-old had been kidnapped from her home at knife point June 5, 2002, and taken to a hidden camp in the mountains above her neighborhood.

“I remember thinking he’s going to rape me and he’s going to kill me,” Smart said.

She was terrorized daily by her abductors — Brian David Mitchell, and his wife, Wanda Barzee. Whenever Smart thought her situation could not get worse, it did.

“There were definitely times that I really wondered whether I would survive,” she said. “Things just seemed so dismal, and so, frankly, difficult and impossible. I honestly didn’t know if I would survive.”

But each morning, she reminded herself not to give up.

“I kept on telling myself that if it took waiting 30 years to be rescued, then I was going to wait 30 years,” she said.

She knew her family and others were searching for her because her captors showed her the newspaper stories.

Smart stayed resilient, with thoughts that her family loved her and would still be there for her.

“No matter what you’re going through, you are so much stronger than you think you are,” Smart said. “You are resilient and amazing and strong, and we feel weak, but we’re all stronger than we think we are.“

She kept hope alive, and now shares that message with others. She heads the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, which aims to end the victimization of sexual assault through education, advocacy and healing.

She continues sharing the greatest lessons she learned.

“Never give up. I mean, always hold onto that piece of hope. Always hold onto that belief.“

Smart told KSL TV she finally felt truly free when she was reunited with her father and he hugged her at the Sandy Police Department on March 12, 2003.

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Elizabeth Smart shares message of hope 20 years after her rescue