LEXINGTON, Ky.(WKYT)- Her story captivated the country in 2002. Elizabeth Smart, a teenage girl ripped from her bed in the middle of the night and forced to live a nightmare for nine long months, before being found alive. Smart has now moved beyond the headlines and is working to advocate for other victims. WKYT's Amber Philpott sat down with the remarkable young woman who has a harrowing story of survival and hope to share with others.
Elizabeth Smart's disappearance from her affluent Salt Lake City, Utah home on June 5, 2002 made national headlines.
Hundreds spent countless hours searching for her and her parents never gave up hope.
It’s been 15 years since she was found, rescued from her captors. It's only been in recent years that she has opened up about those months of torture and abuse.
"It was the hardest nine months of my life," said Elizabeth Smart.
We sat down with Smart while she was in Lexington for a speaking engagement recently. Smart's story of being kidnapped at 14-years-old and forced from her home is one that still resonates with many. Looking back she says she could have never imagined what was about to happen.
"Nothing that day had set off any warnings or any signals that anything bad was coming," said Smart.
Only it was, and in the form of Brian David Mitchell and his accomplice Wanda Barzee.
"It wasn't until I heard the voice again saying I have a knife at your neck, don't make a sound. He said get up and come with me, and I actually felt the knife on my neck, felt someone's hand on my arm trying to pull me out of bed that I really realized that there was a stranger in my bedroom with a knife at my neck trying to pull me out of bed," said Smart.
In her book My Story, Smart details being raped, starved and manipulated by her captors. Through it all she says she found a way to survive in her darkest moments being held in a remote mountain camp.
"Realizing that my captors could take everything away from me and they could destroy me almost completely. The one thing they could not destroy was that my parents would never stop loving me and so for me that was enough, that was worth living for," said Smart.
Life is much different now for Smart. She is a wife and mother of two small children.
"Looking back on it and thinking back on it, sometimes comparing my life to what it was then, it almost seems like it can't have been real," said Smart."
Through her Elizabeth Smart Foundation she advocates for change related to child abduction, works on legislation and spends much of her time speaking out for victims. Smart was in Lexington recently sharing her story for Refuge for Women. She says she was drawn to the organization that rescues victims of sexual exploitation and trafficking, simply because she could relate to the women it serves.
"I feel like it's important to reach out to those survivors and victims and give them hope if I can and also I think it's important to share my story because it is so hard to come forward and say I survived rape and to admit that something that terrible has happened to you," said Smart.
In November a new Lifetime movie will depict Smart's story, another way to reach out to those who might be scared to come forward.
"I think that I would most want them to know that there isn't anybody or anything that could take away their worth as a human being," said Smart.
As for her captors, you might be surprised what this young woman has to say about the two who are now serving prison time for what they did to her.
"I can't hold on to that hate in my life, then I couldn't move forward and I could not be happy," said Smart.
We asked Elizabeth Smart what's next for her, right now through her foundation she is working on bringing forums to colleges and universities to have what she calls frank discussions about rape with students. Smart also has a new book coming out in the spring called Where There Is Hope. She says she is even more proud of this book than her first. To learn more about Refuge for Women click on the link provided.