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September 29, 2023

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Update: Kidnapping victim visits University, shares inspirational message

As a 25-year-old, Elizabeth Smart overcame the shyness she felt when she was only 14. Now, she uses her voice to tell the story of being kidnapped and held captive for nine months.

Her story, she wishes, is one of hope.

Smart came to the University on Tuesday to speak about her life and overcoming the trauma she went through when she was kidnapped from her bedroom in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2002. More than 550 students heard her story Tuesday afternoon, and then around 350 community members, alumni, faculty and staff heard her speak during her evening speech, said Sara Bushong, dean of the University Libraries, which hosted the event with the University Libraries Advocates Board.

Her story made national news and senior Clarence Jackson remembers hearing about it.

“It was crazy because you didn’t think things like that happened,” he said.

Throughout her speech, Smart talked with self-deprecating, humor and humbleness. She did accents of the voice of her Scottish husband and a character in her favorite movie, “Ever After,” and told what she learned from her situation and from being able to speak to people about it in order to raise awareness.

“We always have a choice on how we’re going to react … usually it’s the hardest way you can imagine,” Smart said.

Sophomores Ally Tharrett and Amanda Ashenfelter are members of the University Activities Organization and got to meet Smart before dinner.

“She’s very classy,” Tharrett said. “I told her she was gorgeous.”

Tharrett said Smart talked to her about her dogs, her husband and surfing in Hawaii.

“She’s really down to earth and she kind of seemed like a college student,” Ashenfelter said. “She was very open.”

When all of Smart’s choices were taken from her, she claimed her emotions and decided to be a survivor.

“[When] I realized my family would always love me … I was able to make the most important decision I could,” Smart said. “No matter what … I would do whatever it took to survive. That decision, it saw me through a lot.”

When Smart was kidnapped, the man took her into the mountains of her home state, Utah, and raped her and kept her with him for nine months.

Smart went into detail about her story and about the man who kidnapped her and the woman who was present as well.

When she begged him to let her go, she described her captor as smiling and saying “‘I know exactly what I’m doing, I know what the consequences are, the only difference is I’m not going to get caught.’”

“I remember being petrified,” she said.

Before the man raped her, Smart recounted thinking “‘I was just a little girl, and why did he think this was OK? How could he do this?’ [I had] so many thoughts and questions and worries.”

Smart drew strength from her mother’s previous words to her, from her dad teaching her for months to ride a bike with no training wheels and of other memories that reminded her of her family and how much they loved her.

Because of her determination to survive no matter what, Smart decided to manipulate her captor like he manipulated everyone else.

It worked.

Smart acted like she had gotten a sign from God, as her captor was very religious. Her act worked and the group went back to Salt Lake City, where Smart was kidnapped, and when they got back, she was rescued after being spotted by residents.

“I’m not sorry I was kidnapped and I don’t feel sorry for myself because of what it’s allowed me to do,” she said. “Getting my message out there is so important to me.”

Jackson went for a class, but was surprised by Smart’s speech.

“To hear it from her and to hear how she was saying things, how calm she was, I was very moved,” he said.

Jackson thought Smart’s overall message was one about not letting yourself become a victim, he said,

“Your life is more than just a situation that happens,” he said. “You can’t do anything but be brave and wish the best for what’s going on.”

Smart’s visit was the first in a potential series titled “Ordinary People, Extraordinary Stories.” The University Libraries Advocates Board is meeting Wednesday to decide what the next installment in the series will be, said Paul Stiffler, chairman of the advocates board.

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