In 2002, talented harpist and high school freshman Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped from her bedroom in Salt Lake City, Utah. As soon as her abduction broke in the news, the entire United States went looking for her.
It wasn’t until nine months later that Elizabeth was finally rescued. Yet, the scars from her ordeal had a profound effect on her life following her kidnapping. It wasn’t until many years later that the former victim finally revealed the terrible actions of her villainous abductor…
Elizabeth Smart was born on November 3, 1987. She was a kind, smart, and often shy child but was very obedient to her parents, who were both of Elizabeth’s parents were devout members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Her father, Ed, was a highly successful real estate developer and her mother, Lois was a homemaker taking care of the couple’s six children.
She attended Bryant Intermediate School in Salt Lake City and was a diligent, talented student. Elizabeth was also a skilled equestrienne, riding horses in her spare time. She was also a speedy distance runner, training to compete in cross-country racing when she reached high school. Though, Elizabeth’s greatest passion was the harp…
She had begun playing the instrument since she was 5 years old and practiced for hours a day. All that practice paid off because by the time she entered middle school, Elizabeth was sought out to perform at weddings and funerals. She even opened for the Utah symphony. She had ambitions of becoming a professional harpist.
Unfortunately, life would throw a few roadblocks her way. On June 2, 2002, 14-year-old, Elizabeth Smart and her family attended an end-of-year awards ceremony at her school. She took home several awards for academics and physical fitness that night and had come home feeling accomplished. That night, at about an hour after midnight, Elizabeth was awakened by the sounds of footsteps in her bedroom…
Come With Me…
She felt cold metal pressed against her cheek and knew that it was a knife. Before she could even scream, she heard a man whisper, “I have a knife to your neck. Don’t make a sound. Get out of bed and come with me, or I will kill you and your family.” With no other alternative, and her sister Mary Katherine sleeping soundly in the next bed, Elizabeth got out of bed and walked outside.
The kidnapper led Elizabeth out of the house and marched her, barefoot and still in her pajamas, through the dark woods near the Smart home. After what felt like hours, the two reached a camp where an older woman was waiting for them. Meanwhile, back at the house, Mary Katherine had heard everything…
On the night of her older sister’s kidnapping, Mary Katherine had only pretended to be asleep. Though she was frozen stiff with fear, she knew what was happening and knew that the only way to make sure they found her sister and kept her safe, was if she stayed silent and observed everything she could about the kidnapper. She waited until she was sure it was safe, then went to her parents.
Waking Her Parents
It was just before 4 a.m. when Mary Katherine Smart came to her parents’ bedroom and woke them up. She explained what had happened and her parents initially dismissed it as a bad dream. Once they searched the house, however, the painful truth became all too real. The screen window downstairs had been cut open with a knife and Elizabeth was gone…
Mary Katherine described a white man about the height of her brother Charles who was probably between 30 or 40 years old. She said he was wearing a golf hat and light colored clothes. He had dark hair on his arms and the back of his hands and was apparently very soft-spoken, almost to the point of sounding polite and calm even.
Ed and Lois went on television the very next day and appealed to Elizabeth’s kidnapper to return their daughter to them. Meanwhile, the community launched a massive regional search for the girl, enlisting the help of over 2,000 volunteers to search the area surrounding the Smart home to find some trace of the missing girl…
Word spread quickly. A coalition of websites began to spring up, distributing information on Elizabeth. Flyers were downloaded and put up all across the area. Volunteers and officials combed the wilderness looking for the girl. But soon, after days of intensive searching, the efforts came to a close. They would have to rely on other ways to find poor Elizabeth Smart.
As it turned out, the name of Elizabeth’s kidnapper was Brian Mitchell. A local 59, year old man, Mitchell fancied himself a prophet and had taken the name, Immanuel. He was a polygamist and the woman who had been waiting for him and his intended new bride, was his wife, Wanda Barzee. Once they got to the camp, Mitchell began to perform a bizarre wedding ceremony…
Wanda Barzee didn’t say much but proceeded to wash her feet and told her to change out of her pajamas into a type of ceremonial robe. Elizabeth refused and was met by Mitchell rushing over to her and ripping her pajamas off. Once she finally had the robe on, he performed the ceremony. refused, she said if I didn’t, she would have Brian Mitchell come rip my pajamas off. It was clear that Mitchell wanted to indoctrinate Elizabeth into his bizarre religious beliefs.
Once she and Immanuel were “man and wife”, he attempted to rape her. The 14-year-old could do nothing to fight back, not with Mitchell and his wife standing there to force her to obey. For the next nine months, Mitchell and his wife would hold Elizabeth captive, moving between California and Utah and keeping her tethered to a tree most days…
All the while, Mitchell repeatedly raped Smart, sometimes multiple times a day. He forced her to watch pornographic films and made her drink enormous quantities of alcohol to lower her resistance. He also made her take marijuana and other drugs to make her more pliant. She was also brought to the brink of starvation in an effort to weaken her and make her dependent on him.
I Know Him
Meanwhile, back home, it suddenly occurred to Mary Katherine that the kidnapper who had taken her older sister had closely resembled a man she knew. It was a man, named Immanuel, who had once worked on their home as a handyman. She was certain it was him. The police engaged a sketch artist and were able to track down Elizabeth’s kidnapper finally…
Police had finally discovered that Immanuel the handyman’s real name was Brian David Mitchell. The photograph was aired on America’s Most Wanted in February of 2003, and barely a month later, Mitchell was recognized by a passerby. He was walking along a sunlit street with Elizabeth, who was veiled and wearing a wig and sunglasses. Police swooped in and captured the kidnapper.
Sentenced at Last
Due to questions about his mental fitness to stand trial, the prosecution against Brian Mitchell stretched on for years. Eventually, though, his insanity defense was struck down when the jury finally found him guilty of kidnapping and transporting a minor across state lines with the intent to engage in sexual activity. In December 2010, Mitchell was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Meanwhile, Elizabeth was left to pick up the pieces of her shattered life…
Return to Normalcy
In a remarkable turn of events, Elizabeth Smart was returned to her family and managed to return to a relatively normal life. A week after her return, she and the rest of the Smarts went on a hiking retreat to reconnect. She underwent a minimal amount of therapy and even returned to school five months later. Back to her horses and her harps, Elizabeth Smart flourished.
In 2008, she enrolled at Brigham Young University to study music performance and even went on a Mormon mission trip to France the following year. She is an active member of several organizations that speak out against kidnappers and help to heal the victims and eventually wrote a book about her experience as Mitchell’s captive wife entitled, “My Story.”