"Life is great and I'm so glad to be where I am right now," said Elizabeth Smart before speaking to a crowd of 1,500 in a downtown Austin ballroom. The 25 year old abduction survivor refuses to let her 2002 kidnapping define her. Now married and finishing her degree she's advocating for children through her foundation.
"I remember being so scared," she said from the podium. "I will never, ever, ever forget how I felt. I felt so broken," she recalled. She's speaking out about her ordeal in hopes of raising awareness and providing hope for others. Local non-profit Helping Hand Home invited Smart to speak at its annual Champions for Children awards luncheon.
Smart recently published 'My Story' a detailed account of her kidnapping, missed chances to escape and her rescue. "I'm so glad that by sharing my story I can make a difference and reach out to other survivors and people who need a little extra hope," Smart said. Her message of hope and determination to survive resonates with the work the non-profit does.
As she describes this experience in the opening pages of her new memoir, My Story, it happened on a Sunday after church. Buoyed by a beloved Sunday School teacher’s promise that if the teenagers would lose their lives in the service of God, He would direct their steps, Elizabeth offered her life to God’s guidance:
“God, I’m here. I’m only fourteen. I know I’m just a little girl. But I’ll do whatever it is you want me to do. I really do want to serve you. But I’m not sure that I know how.”
Nothing happened. Until two days later, when Elizabeth found herself kidnapped at knifepoint, raped, chained, and brutalized. She was as confused as anyone would be by this turn of events. “I don’t understand!” she told God. “I did what you have asked me! This can’t be what you wanted!” And it wasn’t, she is quick to point out. God did not have a “plan” for her to be kidnapped:
“I don’t think what happened to me was something that God intended. He surely would not have wished the anguish and torment that I was about to go through on anyone, especially upon a child. But since that time, I have learned an important lesson. Yes, God can make some good come from evil. But even He, in all His majesty, won’t make the evil go away. Men are free. He won’t control them. There is wickedness in this world. Which left me with this: When faced with pain and evil, we have to make a choice. We can choose to be taken by the evil. Or we can try to embrace the good.”
Throughout her book, Smart tells the story of her captivity without flinching, drawing strength from her deep faith in God and the love of her family, including the grandfather who passed away just before her kidnapping and whose spirit she believed helped her through the ordeal. God, Smart believes, never abandoned her even in the worst of times, when she was being raped daily and forced to take drugs and alcohol. In Elizabeth Smart’s case, she was a remnant. She did not lose faith, despite crushing circumstances. “The human spirit is resilient,” she says. “God made us so.”
She spoke to members of the press and a sold out audience of 400 people at the Women Against MS event held at the Wolferts Roost Country Club. “I wanted to tell people that you can take control of life and you can be happy,” said Smart about what inspired her to write her memoir “My Story” that came out last month. “I like to think that everyday I am stronger than yesterday.”
Elizabeth Smart speaks with local media outlets before delivering the keynote address during a fundraising luncheon held at Wolferts Roost Country Club in Menands on Friday, Nov. 1, 2013.
“All of us are faced with different challenges,” Smart said. “I think back on my kidnapping and remember walking a day or two days without water in the desert. I thought at that time I would die of thirst. And I’ll never be able to thank the stranger who passed us a water bottle....We need to help each other along. If you’re struggling with MS, it does not mean your life is over.”
Smart, now married and living in Park City, Utah, said writing the memoir was a “good experience” since it allowed her to look back at the terrible experience but acknowledge the people who did help her and helped with trying to locate her. “There were many people who did help me and did care. And that confirms just how much I have to be grateful for,” Smart said.
Elizabeth Smart stood poised in a green dress, her hands resting atop a lectern as she told more than 400 people about the night a decade ago when she awoke to a man she didn't know hovering over her bed. "I have a knife at your neck," she recalled him saying. "Don't make a sound."
She remembered the man's threats — that he would kill her and her family if she didn't cooperate — and how his words made her realize, for the first time, what it meant to be scared. And on Monday, Elizabeth Smart told the crowd gathered at the Renaissance Hotel in Tampa what it means to survive. "I saw the worst of humanity," Smart said. "But I also saw the best of humanity."
Elizabeth Smart shakes Mary Kelly’s hand after signing a copy of her book, My Story, at the 12th annual Franci Golman Rudolph Schaarai Zedek Sisterhood Star Event at the Renaissance Hotel in Tampa on Monday.
They were things that even she had a hard time believing, she said, until she started traveling the country and sharing her story. At every speech she gives, at every venue she visits, people confide in her that they, too, have been victimized. "Everybody has problems in life. And it's always good to hear a little bit of hope," Smart said. "The more I do this, the more I realize that this is an opportunity for me to reach out to survivors and have them realize that you can move on and be happy."
She thanks the people who searched for her when she was missing, those who prayed for her safe return, those who continue to pray and wish her well every day. Being thankful, she says, is what has helped her to overcome the nine months of horror that befell her a decade ago, to remember that she is loved. "I have a lot of thank-yous to give," she said.
Lori Schwartz, left, watches as Elizabeth Smart, right, signs a copy of her book Monday during the Franci Golman Rudolph Sisterhood Star Event at the Renaissance Hotel in Tampa.
Kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart shared her story with students at Bowling Green State University on Tuesday, and promoted her recently-published memoir. The newly-wed spoke about life since her 9-month abduction in 2002, and her new memoir, “My Story.”
Elizabeth Smart has spoken out about the three women who were kidnapped and held captive in a Cleveland home for a decade, saying she admires their strength. I'm always more than happy to speak to survivors... (but) I know how precious privacy is,' she said at an event in Bowling Green State University. 'I admire them so much. They are so strong.' Smart's latest public speech came at an event in northwest Ohio on Tuesday at Bowling Green State University.