Elizabeth Smart, Abducted at 14, Advises Parents to Tell Their Kids 3 Important Things

September 9, 2019 Updated: September 10, 2019

Fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her family’s home in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2002. She was taken by a man who was not a stranger to the Smarts. It was the start of a devastating nine-month ordeal, and one that would reverberate for the rest of Elizabeth’s life.

The chief of the Salt Lake City Police Department, Rick Dinse, answers questions during a news conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, on June 19, 2002 (©Getty Images | Mauricio Menjivar)

A man crept into Elizabeth and her sister Mary’s shared bedroom at night. He led the terrified teen out of her house at knifepoint; all the while, 9-year-old Mary watched, horrified into silence.

The man was later identified as Brian David Mitchell, a “strange man,” Mary remembered, who had previously been casually employed for manual labor on the Smart family’s property. This time, Mitchell had far more nefarious intentions.

Friends Rigi Fowler, 11, and Laura Luke, 12, canvass their neighborhood in Kearns, Utah, on June 15, 2002 (©Getty Images | Mauricio Menjivar)

He took Elizabeth up into the mountains, where she would spend the next nine months captive with Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Eileen Barzee. Elizabeth endured horrendous daily abuse and was threatened with death if she tried to escape. But her disappearance did not go unnoticed.

Back in Salt Lake City, a media frenzy was in full rampage.

Brian David Mitchell, in a mugshot released from the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s department on March 12, 2003 (©Getty Images | Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Department)
Wanda Ilene Barzee, in a mugshot released from the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s department on March 12, 2003 (©Getty Images | Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Department)

Elizabeth’s story had been covered by America’s Most Wanted. In what would turn out to be a moment of pure serendipity, the imprisoned teen was noticed by a biker, in public, who had seen her on TV.

As reported by AZ Central, on March 12, 2003, two police cars pulled up beside Elizabeth and her captors in a Walmart parking lot, and the brave teen had the courage to identify herself. “I’m the luckiest girl in the world,” Elizabeth shared, after her rescue.

Ed and Lois Smart with their daughter Elizabeth at the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C., on April 30, 2003 (©Getty Images | Alex Wong)

Elizabeth had the chance to address Mitchell, her abuser, before he was locked up. “I know that you know what you did was wrong,” she said, as quoted by Fox News. “You did it with full knowledge. But I want you to know that I have a wonderful life.”

And she does. Elizabeth, now 31, is a married mother of three living in Park City, Utah. She works as a child-safety activist and commentator for ABC News, and has written two books titled My Story and Where There’s Hope. “I felt like I deserved to tell my story,” Elizabeth said.

A movie and documentary telling the story of Elizabeth’s abduction soon followed. To promote the documentary, Elizabeth willingly took part in an “Ask Me Anything” event on Reddit, and one of her answers turned into a threefold piece of advice for parents everywhere.

“In your opinion as a children’s advocate,” came the pertinent question that prompted Elizabeth’s advice, “what are some practical, common-sense steps parents can take to help their children avoid abuse?”

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Elizabeth replied, sharing three things that every parent should make sure their child knows. Firstly, the abuse survivor advised, make sure your child knows that they are loved unconditionally, and make sure, she added, that your child knows what “unconditionally” means.

Secondly, Elizabeth continued, empower your child by ensuring they know that nobody, no matter their position or status, has the right to hurt them.

Elizabeth Smart onstage at the Summer Television Critics Association Press Tour at The Beverly Hilton Hotel in California, on July 28, 2017 (©Getty Images | Michael Kovac)

Thirdly, if anybody should harm or threaten your child, your child needs to know how important it is to speak up, Elizabeth finished. As for the children and teens who are kidnapped, as Elizabeth herself was so many years ago: “There are still survivors who do come home,” she said.

“That’s why we can’t give up.”