Elizabeth Smart, the blonde Salt Lake City kidnap survivor whose story riveted the nation in 2002, charmed an audience of more than 1,000 Tuesday not only with her inspirational story, but also her talent as a gifted harpist.
Smart, the keynote speaker for the Pastoral Institute’s Ninth Annual Women Helping Women Luncheon, played one of the first pieces that she learned after being reunited with her family in March 2003. She first played the song, “Baroque Flamenco,” with the Utah Symphony and it has stuck with her ever since.
On Tuesday, Smart performed the piece flawlessly, her fingers gliding across the strings as she captured the hearts of her audience.
“You are an amazing woman and an inspiration to all of us,” said Lane Riley, co-chair of the event, which was held at the Columbus Convention & Trade Center.
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Smart, now 25 and happily married, performed the piece after telling her poignant story, using her quick wit and spunk to lighten the mood. She started by thanking those who helped search for her and prayed for her family.
She said she would never sign up for another kidnapping, but she’s grateful for her experience because it has put her in the position to help children and people suffering from traumatic experiences.
“I’d still be just another blonde girl from Utah, and I’m sure you’re probably aware of the reputation blonde girls get,” she said jokingly. “And I got it twice as bad as everyone else because my last name is Smart, and whoever heard of a smart blonde?”
Smart described her life before her kidnapping as that of a typical 14- year-old-girl who looked forward to starting high school. Her brother teased her the night before she was kidnapped. And she told him: “Charles, what if those were the last words you ever said to me?
“Well, those were the last words he said to me,” she told the audience. “The next words that I heard came from a man, a voice that I didn’t recognize. I remember him saying: ‘I have a knife at your neck. Don’t make a sound. Get up and come with me.’”
Smart said she went with her kidnapper, later identified as Brian David Mitchell, because she didn’t feel she had a choice. She also didn’t want him to hurt her little sister who was sleeping in the bed beside her.
“I have a big family and we’ve got a few creaky stairs in our house and anytime any of us tried sneaking around at night, we got caught for it,” she said.” So how could he get all the way up into my room. I didn’t know, I thought the only way he could have done it is he must have already hurt or killed some of my other family members.”
From there, Smart said she was taken to the mountains, sometimes crawling on her hands and knees. Convinced that she was going to be killed, she asked her captor to just get it over with and leave her remains so her family could find them. She didn’t want them wondering what had happened to her.
“I wanted to make sure that they knew I wasn’t mad at them, or I wasn’t trying to punish them or trying to run away,” she said.
In the mountains, Smart was taken to a tent where she met the man’s wife, Wanda Barzee. The woman was dressed in a long linen robe and headdress and started to bathe and dress Smart. When Barzee left, Mitchell came into the tent. And he told Smart: “I hereby seal you to me as my wife with God and his angels as my witnesses.”
“Maybe I was just inflicted with the Disney happily-ever-after syndrome,” Smart told the audience. “But to me that was not how marriage was suppose to work. To me, in my mind, Prince Charming was going to come to my parents’ house one day, rescue me from vacuuming the kitchen floor and carry me off into the sunset where we were going to live happily ever after.”
She said she screamed and tried to fight Mitchell off, but he raped her before she had even reached puberty.
“And I will never ever forget how I felt lying on the floor of that tent,” she said. “I felt like I had been crushed. I felt like my soul had been shattered. How could anybody ever love me again?”
Then Smart remembered what her mother had told her one day when she didn’t get invited to a party. She told her that the only opinions that mattered were God’s and her mother’s, and they both loved her unconditionally.
As Smart remained in captivity for nine months, her mother’s words gave her the will to survive.
“I knew it didn’t matter if anybody else accepted me back, if anybody else wanted to be my friend or wanted to love me,” she said. “That didn’t matter because my family still loved me and that was enough.”