Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her home when she was 14 years old by Brian David Mitchell. Brian and his wife, Wanda Barzee, held her captive for nine months until she was rescued by police on March 12th, 2003. In 2011, she founded the Elizabeth Smart foundation which aims to bring hope and end the victimization and exploitation of sexual assault through prevention, recovery, and advocacy.
Now, eventually, Wanda began to crack. She fought with Brian non-stop and demanded that things needed to change. For months, she had been forced to sit at the camp with Elizabeth, starving and dehydrated, just waiting for him to return. Meanwhile, Brian would slip down the mountain, head into town, and drink all day whenever he wanted to. She told him if he was going to town, they were going with. Brian hated this idea, but Wanda wasn't going to budge, her mind was made up. Wanda sewed some veils that could be buttoned to the side of a headdress and the veils were very thick. It would sit right below their eyes and go halfway down the neck. When they headed into town, they were less than a mile from Elizabeth's house. I can't imagine how awful that was to be that close. The three of them get into town and Brian immediately buys alcohol and they all drank plenty of it, then they ended up at a house party. A full ass house party, tons of people. Brian ended up trying to preach to everyone and was harshin the mellow, so they were kicked out and had to go back to their camp. Since Elizabeth hadn't tried to escape or tell anyone at the party who she was, she had finally passed the test and was never tied to the trees again.
Now that Brian trusted Elizabeth, they began going into town all the time, almost daily. The weather in Salt Lake City was beginning to change and winter was approaching. Soon, it wouldn't be possible for the group to say at their campsite and decisions on where to go had to be made quickly. Brian lead the group to a library so they could look at some maps. As they were discussing the idea of San Diego, a man approached them and pulled out a badge. He said that he was a homicide detective and needed to talk to Brian because they received calls suggesting he was with Elizabeth Smart. Wanda and Elizabeth were wearing the giant veil's over their faces and Brian told the officer that he couldn't allow him to see her face because she was his daughter and it was against their religion. The officer asked if he could convert to their religion to be allowed to see her face and Brian said no. They talked for awhile and the officer ended up leaving without seeing Elizabeth's face.
Not long after this, the group hopped on a bus and headed to their new home. Elizabeth felt really upset about this because she was losing hope. She had spent so long living right near her home and no one was able to save her....how would she be saved if they moved to another state? They got off the bus in California and Brian picked a spot to set up camp. One night, he brought KFC and beer back and forced Elizabeth to keep drinking. She ended up passing out, face first in her own vomit and was just left there until she woke up the next morning. Brian thought this was hilarious and laughed at Elizabeth and made fun of her. Not only was this really scary for her, but she was Mormon and was never supposed to drink. Now she's passing out in her own vomit and it was completely humiliating.
The food situation changed drastically in California. Brian had them digging through dumpsters for food, they got old bread from behind the church, and they ate a lot of prickly pears that were growing near them. On Thanksgiving, Elizabeth decided to count her blessings. You heard that right. Instead of feeling hopeless while living with her captors, she decided to think about the reasons to be grateful. At the top of her list, she was thankful for her faith because it really gave her a reason to stay strong and it was the one thing Brian and Wanda couldn't take from her. She figured that she could outlive Wanda and Brian and once they died, she could go home to her family.
One day, Brian announced that it was time for him to find his next wife and she needs to be young and pure, just like Elizabeth and she must be Mormon. His plan was to start going to all of the Mormon churches until he found the right girl. Brian went out the next day and attended a few church services. He met a couple who invited him to their home for a big dinner and while he was there, he realized they had a daughter and he wanted her to be his next wife. He believed that the giant meal the family prepared was a sign from God that he had chosen the correct girl to kidnap. He prepared for awhile and even picked out the new name he was going to give this girl after he captured her. One night, he decided it was time and he headed to the girl's house. When he got there, he found that the sliding glass door on the back of the house was unlocked. Brian slowly started opening the door, but he heard a noise. There was a large man snoring in the room and he knew he couldn't make it past this guy. Brian was like guys, it's so clear to me now. California was just a test our faith, that girl wasn't supposed to be my next wife, I misread the signs. Either way, Elizabeth was ecstatic that Brian wasn't able to take another young girl.
Brian kept going back and forth telling Elizabeth and Wanda that sometimes they could go into town with him and other times they had to stay because it was too dangerous. That meant that they might go days without food while they waited for him to come back to the camp, but he always seemed to find a way to eat like a king himself. During one of his outings, he drank beer and stole pills from a woman at a store. She had pills in her purse and he saw her take some, so he stole it. This is obviously a bad combination and he stumbles upon a church, but it was locked. He was like, well that's not right, I'm a prophet, the church should always be open for me, so he threw a brick through the window and crawled inside to pass out. He was picked up by the police and held for seven days. He gave the police a fake name and told the judge he had been sober for 20 years and just fell off the wagon. So Wanda and Elizabeth had no food or water for 7 days and it caused a lot of tension when he came back and he announced it was time to move again.
Wanda and Brian talked extensively about moving to the East Coast, but Elizabeth desperately wanted to go back to Salt Lake City. She knew the only way to possibly make this happen was to manipulate them, but she knew manipulation was wrong. She decided to put a plan together and told Brian that she had a strong feeling they should go back to Salt Lake City. She was like I know God would never talk to me about this plan, but could you possibly ask since I know he'd answer you? Brian loved this because he was finally being acknowledged as the prophet so he agreed to pray about it. He announced later that Elizabeth was correct and they were heading back to Utah. Elizabeth suggested that they hitch hike all the way back to Utah and said this would help her on her journey of descending below all things and Brian was like yes, finally! You're starting to understand.
Now, we need to talk about Elizabeth's younger sister, Mary Katherine. She was the one sleeping next to Elizabeth when she was taken. She kept replaying the incident in her head over and over again. Several months later, she realized that the kidnapper resembled a handyman that worked at their home once. Police were able to figure out that she was talking about Brian David Mitchell and in February of 2003, America's Most Wanted aired his photo in an episode.
So, Brian, Wanda, and Elizabeth set out on their journey back to Utah and were picked up multiple times along the way. Most of them were fine, but a man named Charlie picked them up and he had photos of naked women all over his mobile home, hanging on the walls and he wanted to rape Elizabeth, but Brian told him many times that he wasn't willing to share her. So, they went to a nudist camp for a bit and then Charlie dropped them off near Las Vegas. When they went to a Burger King they noticed that people were staring at them and whispering. Brian got uncomfortable and demanded that they leave. As they walked into a parking lot, a police officer began questioning Brian, but they ended up letting him go. During this outing, Elizabeth wasn't wearing her robes because they knew it would be difficult to get people to pick them up if they were dressed in a really abnormal way. They had purchased a greyish wig for and some sunglasses for Elizabeth. I don't even think people called the police because they knew she was Elizabeth Smart, I think people realized that they were all acting strange. There's a lot of strange people in Vegas, the police couldn't do anything. The three of them were dressed in really worn and dirty clothing, their bodies were dirty from hiking, and they didn't smell good because they didn't have hygiene products. They were bound to draw attention.
They never accepted a car ride for too long or stayed on the bus for the whole route in case people were watching. On one of the buses, a man kept questioning Brian about their religion and asked why Elizabeth had a grey wig on. Was that part of their religion? Were they teaching her a lesson? Brian was like ok we gotta go, this is our stop. They went to a store to get some items and when they came out, police officers were waiting. The police were shouting at Brian to show them his ID and one of the officers walked over to Elizabeth and asked her name. Brian answered for her and said her name is Shearjashub. (She-ar-josh-oob) Every question the officer asked, Brian answered for her and the officer said, I'm not talking to you sir, I'm speaking to the young lady. Some of the officers huddled together and Elizabeth heard them say she was too scared to answer and they needed to get her by herself. One of the officers gently lead her away from Brian and asked who she was and she couldn't respond. He leaned towards her and said, “Are you Elizabeth Smart? Because if you are, your family has missed you so much since you were gone. They want you back. They love you. They want you to come home. She finally said, “I am Elizabeth.” It was March 12th, 2003, She had been gone nine months and they finally found her.
The officer immediately cuffed Elizabeth and put her in the back of the cop car. Wanda and Brian were taken in a separate car. As Elizabeth rode in silence, she was so confused. What had she done wrong? Why was she cuffed? What if she was going to jail and put in the same cell as Brian? She asked the officer what was going to happen to Brian and Wanda, but they didn't answer. It's probably easy to assume that they believed she had an attachment to them, like a Stockholm Syndrome kind of scenario, but she was actually just scared that Brian would kill her. When they got to the station, the police put Elizabeth in a room by herself and told her she could take off her disguise. All of a sudden, her father was there. He ran to Elizabeth and held her tight. Elizabeth and her father, Ed were quickly escorted to Salt Lake City headquarters. As they were driving, Ed suddenly realized there was one teensy thing he forgot to do. He shouted, we have to call your mom! Lori immediately answers the phone and Ed was shouting, she's alive! It's her! Ed hands the phone to Elizabeth and she goes Mom... and the battery went dead.
Lori was already waiting for them in the private room at police headquarters. It was such a chaotic scene. Elizabeth and her parents are overwhelmed with emotions and they probably have a gazillion questions, but the police wanted to get that interview started. An officer took Elizabeth to another room and she was crying because she just wanted her parents. Ed was like oh no, not today. He stormed in and said they could do the interview later. He brought Elizabeth back to their room and she saw her brothers and her little sister were there. Her brother Charles hugged her and apologized for not protecting her and because the last words he spoke to her was teasing her about something.
After Elizabeth's exam at the hospital, it was finally time to go home, but the police knew that the media and other people were swarming the neighborhood. The police drove her home and into the garage. They waited until the door was shut before letting Elizabeth out so she would be safe. The very first thing she wanted to do was take a bath when she got home. Her parents wanted to put a mattress on the floor in their room so they could keep an eye on her, but Elizabeth was like, I'm so sick of sleeping on the ground, I just want to be back in my bed. Ed and Lori allowed this, but kept checking on her all night. The next day, family members were flooding into the house to celebrate Elizabeth's return and her mother pulled her aside to tell her something important. “Elizabeth, what this man has done is terrible. There aren't any words that are strong enough to describe how wicked and evil he is. He has taken nine months of your life that you will never get back again. But the best punishment you could ever give him is to be happy. To move forward with your life. To do exactly what you want. Because, yes, this will probably go to trial and some kind of sentencing will be given to him and that wicked woman. But even if that's true, you may never feel like justice has been served or that restitution has been made. But you don't need to worry about that. At the end of the day, God is our ultimate judge. He will make up to you every pain and loss that you have suffered. And if it turns out that these wicked people are not punished here on Earth, it doesn't matter. His punishments are just. You don't ever have to worry. You don't ever have to even think about them again.” “You be happy, Elizabeth. Just be happy. If you go and feel sorry for yourself, or if you dwell on what has happened, if you hold on to your pain, that is allowing him to steal more of your life away. So don't you do that. Don't you let him. There is no way that he deserves that. Not one more second of your life. You keep every second for yourself. You keep them and be happy. God will take care of the rest.”
Just weeks after Elizabeth's return, she hiked with her family to the camp where Brian had taken her and she said she felt triumphant. She decided she doesn't want to live in the past.
Elizabeth finished high school and pursued a degree at BYU in music performance. At the time of the trial, she was living in Paris where she was serving an 18 month volunteer mission for church. It had been 9 years since she had seen her captors and she when she walked in that courtroom, she decided that she wouldn't take her eyes off of Brian. He didn't look at her, but he often sang in court and on one of the days, he fell to the floor and started shaking and moaning. As the paramedics loaded Brian onto the gurney, he turned his head and looked at Elizabeth and smiled at her. On May 21st, 2010, Wanda Barzee was sentenced to fifteen years in prison for her role in the kidnapping and sexual assault of Elizabeth. Wanda also got 1 to 15 years at the Utah State Prison for the attempted kidnapping of Elizabeth's 15 year old cousin and the sentences will run concurrently. Brian David Mitchell was sentenced to life in prison and he has no chance for parole.
Elizabeth is a nationally recognized advocate for children's rights. She is president of the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, which advocates for change related to child abduction and recovery programs and legislation. She also promotes the National AMBER alert, the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, and other safety legislation to help prevent abductions. Elizabeth met the man who became her future husband while she was serving her LDS mission in Paris, France. She says her husband, Matthew is the most genuine and honest person she has ever met. They got married in 2012. Elizabeth released a book called My Story which is the book I used for research and she also wrote another book called Where There's Hope: Healing, Moving Forward, and Never Giving Up.
My Story by Elizabeth Smart