The story of 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart captivated the country when she was abducted from her Salt Lake City bedroom in 2002 and held captive for nine months.
On Thursday, a grown-up Smart gave a message of hope and faith to more than 600 people at the 22nd annual Central Florida YMCA Celebration of Prayer.
“It’s only through the grace of God that I am here today,” said Smart, whose 2013 book, “My Story,” detailed her experience.
In unflinching detail and with touches of humor, Smart, now 28, talked about the night when a stranger put a knife to her throat and forced her into the Utah mountains, where he took her as a “wife” and repeatedly raped her.
At first, she thought she would never “be whole again” or find meaning in life, she said. But then she remembered her faith in God and the love of her family.
“I realized I had something worth surviving for — something that these people could never take away,” Smart said during her 25-minute talk. “I decided I would do whatever I had to to survive.”
Smart’s abductors, Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee, were arrested after a Utah man saw them walking with her in March 2003 and called police. Mitchell, 62, is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole. Barzee, 70, is serving a 15-year federal sentence.
Smart now runs the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, whose mission is to keep children from becoming victims of predators. The foundation supports a program called radKIDS that teaches them to protect themselves from harm and violence. Smart also promotes the nationwide Amber Alert system and lobbies for legislation to protect children.
Smart closed her speech by emphasizing her gratitude for the prayers said on her behalf and for “the grace of God,” which she credits for her survival and the capture of her kidnappers.
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SOURCE: The Orlando Sentinel – Susan Jacobson