In 2002, Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped from her Salt Lake City, Utah, home in the middle of the night by drifter Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee. For nine months, she was drugged, starved and raped by her abductors. Her gruesome imprisonment dominated media headlines in 2002 and 2003, becoming one of the most widely recognized kidnapping cases in U.S. history.
It's been 15 years since Smart, now 30, was taken, but interest in her survival story hasn't wavered. Following A&E's Nov. 12 and 13 two-part documentary Elizabeth Smart Autobiography, Lifetime will premiere I am Elizabeth Smart, a movie detailing the kidnapping, interspersed with commentary from Smart herself, who served as a producer on both films.
She tells Cosmopolitan.com that watching both finished products for the first time — and reliving those traumatic memories — was painful, but important. "It was terrifying, because the depictions were so real," says Smart, now a mother of two and a child safety activist. "I kept wanting it to end and shut my laptop, but I had to force myself to watch it through to the end."
Smart, played by Alana Boden in the Lifetime movie, was 14 when she was abducted by Mitchell to be his "second wife." While she was asleep in her bed, the perpetrator held a blade up to her neck and told her that if she screamed, he'd kill her family. Then Mitchell dragged her to an isolated area in the woods, where they met Barzee. She forced the young teen to undress and put on a robe. Mitchell then raped Smart, telling her it was time to "consummate" their marriage.
In 2010, Smart that Mitchell had bizarre religious illusions that blended Mormon ideals and new ageism. He called himself "Davidic King" and "one mighty and strong" and wrote a book called The Book of Immanuel David Isaiah. He often prayed for Smart to fulfill her "wifely duties."
The Lifetime movie documents Mitchell's (Riverdale's Skeet Ulrich) erratic and abusive behavior. Particularly disturbing is the depiction of the first night he rapes the 14-year-old in a tent. As she screams and attempts to squirm away, Barzee (Deirdre Lovejoy) stands outside, praying. The scene then cuts to a shot of present-day Smart, who says, "Do you want it to stop? So did I."
For nine months, the couple supplied the teen with drugs and alcohol. Once, when she became physically ill, Mitchell forced her to lay face down in her own vomit, Smart said in a She was raped daily and, often, more than once a day.
Freedom came on March 12, 2003, while the group was visiting Sandy, Utah.
Mitchell, Barzee, and Smart (who was wearing a gray wig, sunglasses, and veil) were walking down the street in Sandy, when a couple recognized the teen from an airing of America's Most Wanted. Authorities were alerted to the situation, but when an officer stopped the group, Smart initially denied her identity. "I know you think I'm that Elizabeth Smart girl who ran away, but I'm not," she said, according to the 2003 book her parents Ed and Lois Smart wrote, Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope.
She later confirmed her name and was returned to her family. Mitchell on several charges related to her kidnapping, following his 2010 conviction. Barzee and testified against him. In 2010, she was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Smart went on to write a book, become an activist, and push Congress to pass the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act protecting children from sexual exploitation and violent crimes. She worked with other abduction survivors and the Department of Justice to create a survivors guide, "You're Not Alone: The Journey From Abduction to Empowerment." She's been a contributor for ABC News and Crime Watch Daily. In 2011, she and her father founded , an organization "that convenes the proven efforts of partner organizations to not only prevent future crimes against children, but to address victims, survivors and families with the resources and community they need to encourage hope and empower their future," according to its website.
"It was never a conscious decision of mine [to become an activist]," says Smart. "I just kept making the best decisions I could and, before I knew it, I was speaking regularly against violence and sexual abuse, and had formed a nonprofit with my dad."
In 2012, she married Matthew Gilmour in Hawaii and three years later, the couple welcomed a daughter, Chloé. In April 2017, Smart gave birth to their second child, James. Her kids haven't heard her story yet, but she says she "won't keep it a secret."
"It is always better to be prepared and empowered and educated," she says, "instead of being scared and unable to make decision in scary circumstances."
She adds that she's no longer haunted by her traumatic experiences, but the memories linger. "I'm at the point where I only think about it when I choose to," she says. "But right now, my focus is on the depth of love I feel for my children, my advocacy, and my foundation work."
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