Kidnap victim spreads her message of hope
Kristina DeNapoli of Round Lake (left) meets Elizabeth Smart at Vista Health System's Healthy Woman expo at Marriott Lincolnshire Resort Thursday evening. | Michael Schmidt~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 12, 2012 1:58AM
LINCOLNSHIRE — Elizabeth Smart recounted her nine-month kidnapping ordeal for a room full of strangers to spread a message of hope.
Smart, 24, of Utah was the keynote speaker at the Healthy Woman Expo and dinner at Marriott’s Lincolnshire Resort on Oct. 5 where she spoke about overcoming adversity to more than 550 people at the dinner, and met people in small groups at the expo.
“Everybody faces different challenges in their lives ... part of why I speak is to encourage people to keep moving forward,” Smart said.
She was abducted out of her Utah home at knifepoint when she was 14. Her abductors, Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee, kept her captive for nine months from June 2002 through March 12, 2003.
“I think her story is so compelling that she has moved so far beyond what has happened to her. She has made it into a positive experience,” said Nancy Herchenbach, Healthy Woman Expo event chairwoman.
Smart promoted radKIDS, a child empowerment program that puts power in kids’ hands. It targets elementary school-age children and is an eight-to-12-hour program taught in eight class segments.
Rather than give kids a don’t-do list, it gives them options and confidence, Smart said. It teaches kids that nobody has the right to hurt them and they are special.
“I did not have these tools as a kid ... this is something I feel very strongly about because of what happened to me,” Smart said.
Waukegan Community Unit School District 60 is in the early stages of adopting the program, a district spokesman said.
She said she hopes to be a mother one day. In the meantime, she does public speaking and advocacy sharing her story.
Smart is the second of six children. She was close to graduating from eighth grade when she was abducted. Smart recalled going to bed excited the night of her abduction because she had persuaded her parents to allow her to take a trip to Beaver, Utah with a friend.
“I thought that sounded so grownup, the best thing ever,” Smart recalled.
A strange voice woke her in the middle of the night. The man told her that he had a knife at her neck and not to make a sound.
“I knew it was real because I could feel the knife on my neck. I never dreamed or imagined anything like that would happen to me,” Smart said.
Mitchell and Barzee brought Smart north to a remote campsite in the mountains. Mitchell performed some kind of marriage ceremony in which he sealed the 14-year-old to be his wife. Smart said she was in shock.
“I never realized what fear was until that moment in my life,” she said.
Thoughts of her family kept her strong throughout the nine-month ordeal in which her captors moved around from place to place. Her captors threatened both Smart’s life and the lives of her family if she failed to cooperate.
Her captors had taken her to Salt Lake City when two strangers recognized the missing girl and dialed 9-1-1. Smart told police who she was.
Her captors were taken into custody and police escorted Smart into a squad car in handcuffs. Smart said she never understood why she was also handcuffed.
“I like my own conclusion. They (police) saw in me what I see now. They saw a lethal weapon,” Smart said.
She was immediately reunited with her father and shortly with her family. Mitchell was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Barzee is serving a 15-year prison sentence.