Elizabeth Smart: the kidnapping case that changed the nation

Emily Aiken ’20, Editor-in-Chief

On June 5, 2002, 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her Utah home. Elizabeth and her nine-year-old sister, Mary Katherine, shared a bedroom and when they went to bed that night, everything seemed normal. At about two in the morning, Elizabeth woke up to a sharp and cold object pressed up against her neck. A man stood above her, telling her not to make a sound or he would kill her and her family. He then directed her to follow him out of the room. Elizabeth walked through the halls of her home and was taken out of the house by her abductor. What was unknown to both Elizabeth and her captor was that Mary Katherine was awake during this time, but she remained silent so no one would get hurt.

Elizabeth was escorted on a long and strenuous trail that led to the woods, where she met Wanda Barzee, the captor’s wife. Barzee demanded that Elizabeth take off her pajamas and put on a robe. During her captivity, she was called ‘Esther’, after the Esther of the Old Testament. She told her captor that if he was going to kill her, she wanted him to do it right then and there because she did not want to burden her family with having to search for her. Her captor looked at her and said, “I’m not going to kill you yet.”

Elizabeth actually knew her abductor. About seven months prior to her abduction, Elizabeth, her sisters, and her mom were out running errands in downtown Salt Lake City when they saw a homeless man begging for work and money. The mom gave him money and even offered him a job helping with some handiwork around their house. This man’s name is Brian David Mitchell, although he identified himself as Emmanuel from the Bible. He would later be the captor of Elizabeth.

Elizabeth was missing for nine months, where she was raped everyday, forced to do work, forced to perform religious rituals, drink alcohol, and obey all of Mitchell’s commands. They were staying in a tent in the woods. She was chained up with little food and water. Her life was like a prison. Barzee and Mitchell would go out in public with Elizabeth on numerous occasions but always disguised. On one occasion, they went to a library. One day, they all went to a grocery store. Elizabeth was recognised by the officers at the grocery store, and she was rescued. In an interview with NBC, Elizabeth recounted that moment.

Mitchell was sentenced to two life-sentences in federal prison. Barzee was sentenced to 15 years, and was released at the age of 72. As for Elizabeth, when she was rescued, her mom gave her advice that would change her life forever. She said, “Elizabeth, what this man has done to you is terrible. He has stolen nine months of your life that you will never get back.  But the best punishment you could ever give him is to be happy.” And with that, she did. She started the Elizabeth Smart foundation to help stop crimes against children. Today she is 31 years old and is a child safety advocate. She works for ABC News and is happily married with two children.

Photo courtesy of NBC4

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