Elizabeth Smart, the young Salt Lake City kidnap survivor whose nine-month abduction riveted the nation in 2002, will bring her harrowing story to Columbus as the keynote speaker for the Pastoral Institute’s Ninth Annual Women Helping Women Luncheon.
The event is being organized by the women of the Pastoral Institute’s Auxiliary, and will be held at 11:30 a.m., April 9, at the Columbus Convention & Trade Center, 801 Front Avenue.
Beth Burgin, the institute’s marketing coordinator, said the auxiliary is excited to have Smart as its speaker because she is living proof that one can experience a traumatic event and still triumph. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Hope Fund, formerly called the Samaritan Fund, which helps children and families in local homeless shelters receive free or low-cost counseling.
“We’re looking forward to hearing (Elizabeth Smart) talk about her journey of moving ahead after what she experienced,” Burgin said. “Because one of our components is that we have a counseling center, our clinicians are walking people through the healing process daily. So for us, she was a natural fit.”
Smart is now a senior at Brigham Young University studying harp performance. She was 14 years old when she was kidnapped at knifepoint in the early morning of June 5, 2002, as her little sister lay in bed beside her. The kidnapper, Brian David Mitchell, was a handyman who had worked on the family’s Salt Lake City house. He took Smart to a make-shift camp that he and his wife, Wanda Barzee, built in the mountains near the home.
The couple conducted a marriage ceremony and proclaimed Smart the wife of Mitchell, a self-proclaimed prophet. The teenager was raped repeatedly during her captivity, and was forced to hitchhike to California with the couple. In March 2003, after a massive regional search, Smart was found walking with Mitchell and Barzee in a Salt Lake City suburb. Police returned Smart safely to her family. And in 2011, she testified about the horrific ordeal in front of her captor. Both Mitchell and Barzee have been convicted for the kidnapping.
Smart is now a strong advocate for abused and missing children through the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, which she founded. She helps promote Amber Alerts and has worked with the Department of Justice to create a survivors guide to empower children that have experienced traumatic events. She is also an advocate for child safety legislation.
Burgin said last year’s luncheon drew about 700 attendees, and she expects the numbers to be even higher this year. Tickets are $50 per person (open seating) and $425 per Patron Table of eight (reserved seating). Registration deadline is April 2. To register for the event, go to www.pilink.org or call Brandy Medlin at 706-649-6362, ext. 1247.