In 2002, Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped from her bedroom in Salt Lake City, Utah. The 14-year-old's disappearance made national headlines as her parents and authorities looked desperately to track her down. Nine months later, she was rescued by authorities as a captive of Brian David Mitchell, a homeless street preacher, and his wife, Wanda Ileen Barzee. They were each convicted of kidnapping. Since then, Smart has become an advocate for crime victims.
Here's her story then and now.
On June 5, 2002, Smart was kidnapped from her bedroom. She endured nine months of horror, fatigue and abuse under the watch of Mitchell and his wife Barzee. Smart says that Mitchell raped her while Barzee watched.
"Every time I thought I hit rock bottom, somehow these people would find something new, something worse," she said in a phone interview with U.S. News. "Every single time. And I had to shut down my heart because it hurt so bad that I wouldn't have been able to survive. I knew that my family would always love me and that they wouldn't abandon me, so I made the decision to do whatever it took to survive. It didn't matter what it was. But when I made that decision, it was turning off a part of my heart, part of my soul, because I just couldn't take it."
Her abductors often took Smart out in town, convincing her that no one was going to rescue her. On March 12, 2003, Smart and the captors were approached by authorities. Her captors had brainwashed her and told authorities that she was their daughter. She remembers the interaction, the officer asking her who she was and blanking on her name. "The officer waited, then leaned toward me, looking me right in the eyes again. When he spoke, his voice was soft and assuring. 'Are you Elizabeth Smart? Because if you are, your family (pictured above) has missed you so much since you were gone! They want you back. They love you. They want you to come home.'" Eventually, she remembered who she was. “I am Elizabeth."
Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Ileen Barzee were indicted for Smart's kidnapping, but initially ruled unfit to stand trial. Both defendants were eventually found competent to stand trial. Barzee was convicted in 2009 and Mitchell was convicted in 2010. He was sentenced to life in prison and she received 15 years.
In 2014, Elizabeth penned her autobiography, "My Story," and detailed her kidnapping by the religious fanatic and his wife. She also produced a made-for-TV movie about her experiences, in hopes that it can help other victims of kidnapping and abuse.
“I will say that is the best and worst movie I’ve ever seen,” Smart said of the movie this year. “It was so well done. It was accurate, but at the same time, part of me will be happy if I never have to see it again. I’m very proud of it, but I hate it at the same time.”
Elizabeth Smart has turned tragedy into triumph. As a contributor with ABC News, she speaks out about other crimes and serves to support victims. She has testified in Washington, D.C., and she and her family established the Elizabeth Smart Foundation to use their experiences to help protect children from becoming victims of kidnapping and sexual crimes. As a married mother, she says she has "a wonderful life now."
[Photo: Getty Images]