‘I was left alone feeling absolutely broken’
ON JUNE 5th, 2002, in the bed she shared with her nine-year-old sister, Elizabeth Smart woke abruptly.
Even in the dead of the night, she immediately knew something was wrong.
"I have a knife at your neck. Don't make a sound. Get out of bed and come with me, or I will kill you and your family," a voice said from the darkness.
Scared for her loved ones' safety, the fourteen-year-old made the impossible decision to go with her abductor, Brian David Mitchell, a religious fanatic.
Her kidnapping marked the beginning of a nine-month ordeal - one that would shape the rest of her life.
Led up into the steep mountains behind her family's Salt Lake City home, she was held captive at a remote camp.
There in the woods, she was shackled to a tree, drugged and raped as often as four times a day. Mitchell was aided by his wife, Wanda Barzee, who had bought into his religious delusions.
The details of her kidnapping were so awful, that for 10 years Elizabeth fought to keep them secret.
But in 2013 she broke her silence, in her memoir My Story.
She recalled that minutes after she was snatched from her bedroom a police cruiser idled by, as her kidnapper forced her to hide. It would be just one of several haunting near rescues.
Speaking to Meredith Viera in an exclusive interview, the same year she recalled the first time she was raped after a bizarre wedding ritual on the night of her abduction.
"I remember him forcing me onto the ground, fighting the whole way, and he raped me right there on the floor of the tent. When he was finished he stood up, and I was left alone feeling absolutely broken, absolutely shattered. I was broken beyond repair," she said.
"I was going to be thrown away. I remember lying there and just thinking of the children whom I'd seen on the news who only their bodies had been found. I remember thinking 'Wow', they are the lucky ones, they will never have to feel this pain ever again."
Despite her family's frantic search efforts, they were no closer to locating the missing teen.
However, Mitchell began to let his guard down, and Elizabeth earned her captors' trust.
Mitchell would take Elizabeth, along with his wife Barzee, into town disguised in long white robes. Brazen, he even took them to a rave, where their odd appearance would draw attention, but still, nobody made a connection
Ultimately, Elizabeth's rescue on March 12, 2003 would be the result of an unlikely revelation from her sister, and an episode of America's Most Wanted.
A SURVIVOR'S STRENGTH
Fourteen years later, Elizabeth Smart is telling her story, from her perspective, in the form of a Lifetime movie called I Am Elizabeth Smart.
She is the executive producer and narrator on the film, which will be released on November 18.
"I will say that it's the best and worst movie I've ever seen," Elizabeth said on a panel for A+E Networks at the Television Critics Association press tour.
"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."
After her initial rescue, Elizabeth said that all she wanted to do was "run away" from the experience, but over the years she realised her trauma could be used to make a difference.
Today, Elizabeth is married with two children. She is an advocate for missing children and abuse survivors, and tirelessly works to change recovery programs, while promoting National legislation such as the AMBER alert.
In 2011 she launched the Elizabeth Smart Foundation to help locate missing children and stop the sex trafficking of minors. And she fearlessly condemns the pornography industry due to the role it played in her abduction.
All that aside, her role in the film is not something she rushed into and came only after careful discussion with producers.
She said the whole experience was pretty surreal.
"I remember first walking into the hair and makeup trailer, and I don't think I was supposed to go in there yet. But I remember poking my head in, and there was Skeet [Ulrich, who plays Mitchell] getting his hair and makeup done. And I just saw him for, like, half a second. I was, like, 'Oh, my gosh, that looks just like him'."
She said, "It was such a surreal experience because I was sitting there looking at him and thinking, 'You look like the devil. You look like the worst human being I know. But I know you're not him'."
Brian David Mitchell was sentenced to life in prison for his crimes, Wanda Barzee pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison.
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