At MU, Elizabeth Smart shares story of her kidnapping

Friday, March 14, 2014 | 11:20 p.m. CDT
Elizabeth Smart speaks to an audience in Jesse Hall on Friday about her 2002 kidnapping and the importance of perseverance in searching for missing children.

COLUMBIA — In a matter of hours, Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped from her bedroom in her family's Salt Lake City home, taken to a makeshift camp in the mountains and raped by her captor, a man who called himself Immanuel. It was June 2002, and she was 14.

"I remember just wanting to die right there," she said. "I was broken. I was damaged beyond repair."

Smart spoke to a crowd of more than 1,200 at Jesse Auditorium on Friday night about her nine-month ordeal at the hands of her captors and its aftermath. In particular, she focused on how the love of her family gave her the will to survive her kidnapping. 

The event was part of the MU Delta Gamma Foundation's lecture series on values and ethics. Smart also held a news conference and a signing for her book, "My Story," at the MU Student Center on Friday afternoon. 

Captive, hopeless and afraid in the secluded mountain camp more than 11 years ago, Smart began to wonder how long she might be kept there. She wondered what would happen if, in 30 years, her captors died and she was left alive. She wondered if she would even remember who she was.

So she set about preserving her memories. She remembered her mother's voice, which sang "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'" to wake up Smart and her siblings every day. And she remembered her father, who taught her to ride a two-wheel bike and stayed up all night to help finish her math homework. 

"I made the decision to do whatever it took to survive and see my family again," she said, "even if it meant outliving my captors."

And she did survive. Nine months later, as she was walking with her kidnappers on State Street in Salt Lake City, police cars pulled up and officers jumped out and began questioning them.

She was reunited with her family that day. 

The morning after her rescue, Smart said, her mother gave her the best piece of advice she'd ever received.

"What this man has done to you is terrible," Smart remembered her mother telling her. "The best punishment you could ever give him is to be happy. He does not deserve another second of your life."

Smart said she is actually grateful for what has happened to her because it has allowed her to speak out against sexual assault and violence against children.

She said she never would have realized how many kind people there were in the world had she not been kidnapped, reflecting on the support she received after she was returned to her family.

Empowering kids to fight back

Smart's visit to MU came less than a month after a 10-year-old Springfield girl named Hailey Owens was kidnapped and killed.

"I'm just sick,"Smart said during the news conference Friday, referring to Hailey and other recent child abductions and murders in the state. She said the families are in her thoughts and prayers.

Smart stressed the importance of education and empowerment in preventing abductions. She works with a program called radKIDS that teaches children to fight back physically against attackers.

Smart did not think she had a choice to fight back or do anything to stop her own kidnapping, she said Friday night. She was worried that she might be killed, or worse, that her kidnapper might kill her sister or the rest of her family.

"No one had ever prepared me for this moment," she said about that night in June 2002. 

She said during the news conference that more than 80 percent of children who fight back against their abductors get away.

"If someone is hurting you, if someone is making you feel uncomfortable, if someone is doing something that you are not OK with," she said, "then by all means, do whatever it takes."

Supervising editor is Allie Hinga.

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