Smart tells of horror and hope
Written by TARA KELLER Sentinel Staff Writer
Wednesday, 06 November 2013 11:27
Elizabeth Smart made the most important decision of her life when she was 14.
|Elizabeth Smart addresses members of the media before speaking as a guest for the BGSU Libraries' "Ordinary People, Extraordinary Stores" series at the Bowen-Thompson Student Union. (Photo: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
After a man kidnapped her from her home in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2002, Smart knew she had two choices.
The first choice was easy - she could give up fighting and eventually be murdered.
The second choice was harder, but she knew it was the right one.
She could survive.
"Before I did anything, I always asked myself that question," Smart said. "Will this help me survive?"
Smart shared that hard, but right, second choice last night at Bowling Green State University as part of its Ordinary People, Extraordinary Stories series.
Growing up, Smart said she always just felt ordinary.
She was a quiet girl and played the harp. She was easily embarrassed, sharing a story about her dress getting stuck in her underwear at a wedding reception and hiding in the bathroom the rest of the night.
"I was a very shy girl," Smart said. "I was about to graduate junior high."
Smart was thinking about the new opportunities high school could bring when she fell asleep on June 5, 2002, next to her little sister.
She awoke with a knife to her throat.
"I remember hearing the words 'I have a knife. Don't make a sound. Get up and come with me,'" Smart said. "I was feeling more awake than I had in my entire life."
The man took her to a mountainside about three-and-a-half miles away from her home.
There, in front of his wife and a makeshift camp site, the man told Smart his intentions.
"I will never forget what he said to me," Smart said. "He said 'I hereby seal you to me as my wife before God and his angels as my witness.'"
Once "marrying" her, Smart's captor raped her and chained her by the ankle.
Her new world now consisted of a tent and bucket.
"It felt like my life was over," Smart said. "Right now, he had no intention of killing me."
During this time, Smart thought back to the stories she'd seen on TV of other abducted children and how they weren't found alive.
"I thought, 'wow, they are so lucky,'" she said. "I wish I could be one of them because no one could hurt them now."
It was her family, and particularly the memory of her mom's voice, that led to her decision to escape.
"I started naming off everything that was important to me," Smart said. "That way, I'd never forget where I came from."
Upon learning her captors planned to take her to New York, Smart tricked them into hiking back to Salt Lake City from their current location in San Diego.
The trio hitchhiked to reach Smart's hometown and it was there, just 18 miles away from Salt Lake City, where Smart's decision worked.
On March 12, 2003, police rescued Smart after three people called 911 from identifying her walking on the highway with her abductors.
Those three people and countless others who searched and prayed for nine months will always be in Smart's heart, she said.
"I've seen the worst in humanity," Smart said. "But I can also say I've seen the best in humanity."
That experience in humanity is why Sara Bushong, dean of BGSU's libraries, helped sponsor the event.
"Her message is so important and heartfelt," Bushong said. "It's an honor. Her story really connects well with others."
Smart's story especially connected with Crystal McNutt.
McNutt read Smart's autobiography "My Story" last week and attended the event with her family.
"She taught me that you're more than the hardships you go through in life," McNutt said. "So I got her a gift."
McNutt bought Smart a Paris-themed tote bag because Smart completed a mission trip in Paris and a canvas quote wall-hanging.
"I was out shopping and I saw these and thought of her," McNutt said. "She's phenomenal."
Now 10 years after being rescued, Smart is an activist against child abductions and started the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, which advocates recovery programs and national legislation.
She hopes her story will bring hope to other people who have been kidnapped or abused.
"I want them to know that whatever happened to them doesn't decrease their value. Nobody deserves to be hurt," Smart said. "I truly believe every bad situation can have a positive effect. Each one of us has something to offer that no one else does."