I got to go to Elizabeth Smart’s book signing on Tuesday, October 15. For those who don’t know, Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped in 2002 by knife point from her bedroom in Salt Lake City when she was only 14 years old. I was a senior in high school when this happened and I remember all the many times that Ed Smart, her father, would come on the news and beg people not to forget about her and to keep looking. Her father put up billboards and had people put up flyers not just in Utah but all over the country. I had a feeling that a lot of the country was humoring him since most people thought she was probably dead. The nation was shocked when Elizabeth was found alive 9 months later on State Street, not more than a few miles from where we sat and listened to her tell us about her experience. After she was found, Ed and Elizabeth pushed for a nationwide Amber Alert system that eventually passed and changed how we treat kidnapped children cases today. The thing I admire the most about Elizabeth is her courage, faith, and hope that she shares with other people. She pursued her dreams despite what happened to her. She went to BYU and studied Harp Performance and went on an LDS (Mormon) mission where she met her husband and then later got married.
When Elizabeth got up to talk to all of us sitting in the auditorium, the first thing she said was thank you for all those that helped her and searched for her. She decided to write her book because she’s been so blessed and wanted to say thank you to all the people that helped her or even saved her life and will never know it. She hoped that her story would keep what happened to her from happening to others.
One of the most heart-wrenching things she said about her experience was that at one point in her kidnapping she envied the kids who had been killed when they were kidnapped on the news because no one could hurt them anymore. She told a story of when they were hitchhiking. Elizabeth was forced to carry bags with tents, bedding, and books and they were so heavy. She was sunburned so bad that her shoulders were blistered and bleeding. She was exhausted, hot, and thirsty as they walked in the hot desert. A man stopped and gave them water and she was so grateful for the water. It’s so amazing and inspiring to me the amount of gratitude she had for the small miracles.
The advice that she shares with everyone is her mom’s advice because “well, she’s my mom and she’s always right.” Her mom told her that what he did was terrible and can’t be put into words how truly horrific it was. But the best punishment to give him is to be happy. Reliving the past and feeling sorry for yourself only allows him to steal more of your time. He’s already taken 9 months of your life that you will never get back and he doesn’t deserve a single second more. Elizabeth said that she’s not always perfect at it, but it’s helped her get where she is. And the support of the community helped her so much. The day after she was rescued, her dad brought her a stuffed animal and bouquet of flowers. She thanked her dad, but he said they weren’t from him – they were from the community. She got boxes and boxes of mail wishing her well. One of her greatest fears coming back was not being accepted and that she would have “a scarlet letter on her chest and be rejected.” The love and support that people cared about her made a big difference to her.
Time was one of the biggest healing factors. She went on, lived, and had experiences so the one experience in her life was not her kidnapping. She can look back now and see that she finished high school, got a driver’s license, pursued her harp music, and got married. When she looks back now there isn’t just one dark hole.
Q: If I, or someone else, had recognized you would you have gone with them?
A: For the first six weeks she was chained to a tree with a bucket for a bathroom. Her captors told her that they would kill her, her family, and anyone who tried to help her. She tried to escape a few times, but it didn’t work and it was at great personal cost. She didn’t want to endanger anyone to try to escape. She felt like she had to wait for the perfect opportunity. So if she had thought it would endanger anyone to go with them, she might have just stood there and done nothing.
Q: Would you describe the experience of writing the book? Was it a good experience or a bad?
A: It was a good experience. She thought a lot about how detailed she wanted to be. At first she thought that she didn’t want to be so depressing that people wouldn’t finish. But what if someone out there was going through something similar, it would be selling her and them short if she glossed over things. So she decided she would have to go into detail but try not to be too graphic. When she reached the end, she realized that there were so many people that helped her so much. There were people who picked them up while they were hitchhiking, she was very grateful for the people who threw out their food because that was often what her captor brought her back to eat.
Q: What do you think of homeless people? You lived as one and were kidnapped by one when you were helping them.
A: She’s not scared of homeless people. She didn’t interact with them a lot. Her captor told her stories of the homeless people he interacted with and most of them used to be contributing members of society and had something tragic happen to them. If she sees a homeless person, she doesn’t have a problem helping them in any way she can. I’m sure it goes without saying, but she mentioned that she wouldn’t help by letting them get in her car. But money or food she doesn’t mind giving.
Elizabeth was very sweet. I asked her if she was going to tour the country for her book. She smiled and said she wasn’t planning on it, but if the opportunity presented itself…why not. :)