Elizabeth Smart's Incredible Story: From Kidnapped Teen to Survivor and Married Mom
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Feb. 3, 2017, and has been updated.
The news — which Smart called “incomprehensible” — has put the 30-year-old’s life as an abduction survivor turned author, philanthropist, motivational speaker and victims’ rights advocate is back in the headlines.
Smart was just 14 years old when she was taken from her Salt Lake City bedroom in 2002 and held for nine months, before being rescued. Now, she speaks out about her experiences on behalf of others, using her harrowing time spent in captivity to advocate for good.
Here’s a look back at Smart’s incredible journey — from her terrifying kidnapping to her rescue and beyond.
‘Elizabeth Is Gone’
Early on June 5, 2002, Brian David Mitchell broke into the Smart family’s three-story home and snatched the teen from the bed she shared with her then-9-year-old sister, Mary Katherine.
“She’s gone. Elizabeth is gone,” Mary told her parents, Ed and Lois. “A man came and took her. He had a gun.”
Ed and Lois later detailed the night in their 2003 book, Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope, writing that they ran through their home, flicking on every light switch in search of their daughter.
“Lois’s eyes fell on the cut screen in the kitchen window, and she screamed in utter disbelief and shock,” the couple wrote. “That’s when we both realized that Mary Katherine’s words had quickly become our worst nightmare. Our daughter Elizabeth was gone.”
Years later in court, Smart recalled the moments she was abducted from her bed.
“He placed his hand on my chest,” she said in court in 2009. “Then put the knife up to my neck. He told me to get up quietly and if I didn’t then he would kill me and my family.”
Mitchell, a onetime homeless preacher and self-avowed prophet, had taken Smart to a makeshift campsite just a few miles from her home before eventually moving her to Lakeside, California.
Brian David Mitchell
RELATED VIDEO: Woman Who Helped Kidnap Elizabeth Smart Will Be Freed Next Week: ‘Incomprehensible,’ Smart Says
Nine Months of ‘Living Hell’
Startling details of Smart’s captivity emerged following her rescue in early 2003. She testified in 2009 to how she was drugged, tied to a tree and raped as often as four times a day.
The first rape occurred the day she was abducted, Smart said. Mitchell’s wife, Wanda Barzee, made her change in to a “robe-type of garment” in the woods and Mitchell performed a pseudo marriage ceremony.
“I remember him forcing me onto the ground, [and] fighting the whole way,” Smart said. “And then when he was finished, he stood up, and I was left alone, feeling absolutely broken, absolutely shattered. I was broken beyond repair. I was going to be thrown away.
Elizabeth Smart addresses the media after Brian David Mitchell is convicted in December 2010.
Smart testified that Mitchell gave her drugs and alcohol, noting that she once became sick and he forced her to lay face down in her own vomit.
She called Mitchell “manipulative,” “evil” and “greedy.” She explained in an August video for Fight the New Drug that his pornography addiction made her “living hell worse.”
“He would just sit and look at it and stare at it, and he would just talk about these women,” Smart said, “and then when he was done, he would turn and look at me, and he would be like, ‘Now we’re going to do this.’ ”
From left: Lois, Elizabeth and Ed Smart in 2003.
The call came in March 2003: An officer called Smart’s father, Ed, at his office to say, “We think we found a homeless girl that might be Elizabeth,” he wrote in his 2003 book.
“She looked like a homeless girl … I wasn’t certain at first that it was her,” Ed said of the long-sought reunion. “I went over and put my arms around her and just started bawling. I held her back, looked her in the eyes, and said, ‘Is it really you, Elizabeth?’
“‘Yes, dad.’ ”
A couple had recognized Mitchell from an airing of America’s Most Wanted when they spotted him walking with two women walking down the street in Sandy, Utah. An officer questioned Mitchell and then Smart, who Mitchell had given the name “Augustine.” The teen was also made to wear a veil in public.
“I know you think I’m that Elizabeth Smart girl who ran away, but I’m not,” Smart said, as Ed detailed in his book.
But Smart soon revealed her identity, ending the nine-month ordeal.
Smart addressed Mitchell at his sentencing in 2011, saying, “I know that you know what you did is wrong. You took away nine months of my life that can never be returned.”
“You will never affect me again,” she told Mitchell.
From left: Matthew Gilmour and Elizabeth Smart.
Her New Life
In Smart’s years since Mitchell’s trial, she has worked on an array of projects — and started a young family, with a third child on the way — with her focus on motherhood and helping others. She wrote a memoir, My Story, in 2013 and regularly speaks out on behalf of missing children.
“I feel so fortunate that I was able to come through this unscarred. I want to tell other people, ‘Don’t give up. Miracles do happen,’ ” Smart told PEOPLE in 2008 while studying music at Brigham Young University. She added, “I’m not sorry this happened to me anymore, because it made me grow up.”
Smart told PEOPLE in 2014 her “greatest aspiration” was to be a mom: “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my mom,” she said. “My mom is a hero and has influenced my life more than any other person, and I’d like to have that same influence on my children.”
From left: Matthew Gilmour and Elizabeth Smart at their 2012 wedding in Hawaii.
Smart married Matthew Gilmour in 2012, in a private ceremony in Hawaii, and welcomed her daughter, Chloe, in February 2015. She has also worked as an activist and, in recent years, as a contributor for ABC News and Crime Watch Daily.
As she told PEOPLE in 2016, “The power of the media is so strong. I know that in my own experience, if my parents hadn’t kept my story alive in the press, it might have been just another sad story that came and went. So the opportunity to talk to other victims and survivors means a lot to me and to them.
“Nobody should have to go through the aftermath of a terrible crime alone.”