As a Parent, Elizabeth Smart Says She's 'on the Paranoid Side of Things' Because of Her Abduction (Exclusive)

Elizabeth Smart was 14 when she was abducted from her Salt Lake City bedroom on June 4, 2002

Published Time: 30.06.2024 - 15:31:14 Modified Time: 30.06.2024 - 15:31:14

Elizabeth Smart was 14 when she was abducted from her Salt Lake City bedroom on June 4, 2002. The Utah teen was held in captivity for nine months by homeless preacher and self-avowed prophet Brian David Mitchell and his wife Wanda Barzee. She was repeatedly sexually assaulted before she was rescued.

More than two decades later, Smart is a married mother of three, a successful author and speaker, a child safety and domestic violence advocate and an executive producer.  

In an interview with PEOPLE, Smart talks about how her terrifying ordeal has affected the way she parents, what her children know, and how she has found a sisterhood with other survivors.

Smart says her three children — Chloe, 9, James, 7, and Olivia, 5 — know about her kidnapping and captivity but “not in extreme detail."

"They could tell you the overarching story of what happened, but they couldn't tell you details," she says. “Now it's to a point that I just say, ‘If and when you want to talk about it more, we can.’ And they seem pretty content with where they're at right now. And I guess I'll just take it day by day as it comes.”

She doesn’t want her kids to grow up scared because of what she went through, “but I also want them to be aware of the world and I want them to be aware of what can happen,” she says. “I don't want them to put other people's feelings or emotions over their own safety. I want them to know that their safety is more important to me than worrying about offending someone else.”

Worrying about her kids is “never ending," she says.

“I felt like when they were born, my heart just decided to take up residence in my throat,” she says. “It probably definitely makes me a little bit more on the paranoid side of things. And those times that the paranoia comes out, I usually ask them, ‘Do you know why I'm the way I am?’ And my little boy will be like, ‘Yes, you don't want us to get hurt. You want to keep us safe?' I'm like, 'Okay, then don't do that.'"

“My husband is a great counterweight to me,” she adds. “He's always been a voice of reason. So that is a very good thing to have.”

In Smart’s years since her captors' trial and conviction, she has worked on an array of projects. Lifetime documented her kidnapping in I Am Elizabeth Smart (2017), which she produced. In 2011, she founded the Elizabeth Smart Foundation to combat sexual violence. Smart has also published two best sellers: My Story (2013) and Where There's Hope (2018). She worked again with Lifetime on The Girl Locked Upstairs: The Tanya Kach Story, which chronicles the shocking story o -

f how Kach was groomed in 1995 by a school security guard who lured her to his home and held her captive for 10 years.

“You don't want to believe that these kinds of things happen,” says Smart. “Sharing stories is such a powerful tool for creating education and hopefully for fostering compassion. My hope is that survivors feel empowered by sharing their stories and they don't feel like it's a part of their life that they have to hide. I want that for them.”

Talking to fellow survivors has helped Smart not feel so alone.

“It's almost like an instant bond,” she says. “Whenever I meet another survivor, I just feel like there's a moment where we kind of look at each other and we both know like, yeah, you know what it's like, or we've been there. I felt that with Tanya. It's almost like being part of a club that you never willingly want to be a part of.”

“I was a kid, but I didn't hear anybody else openly talk about what they went through, even for years after I was rescued,” Smart adds. “For a long time, I did feel alone, and I don't feel alone anymore.”

About her abductors, Smart says she doesn’t spend much time thinking about them.

“They’re not people that I think of regularly,” she says. “I guess every now and then, part of me wonders how you could get to a point where you would think it's okay to kidnap a young girl.”

About Barzee’s release from prison in 2018, Smart says, “As long as she isn't hurting anybody else and is staying far away from my family there’s really nothing I can do.”

Mitchell, she says, “should never get out.”

“I just think no matter what, if he got out, he would be a danger if not to me than to another young girl. I think he will always pose a threat.”

He’s serving a life sentence for his crimes.

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Smart considers March 12 — the anniversary of the day she was rescued — a “happy day.”

“March 12th is to me a reminder that miracles happen and that there are many good things to be grateful for. And it's a bright moment in the dull month of March," she says.

Her life, she adds, is “a work in progress.”

“I have great days. I have not good days. I've got three kids that I love and drive me crazy,” she says with a laugh. “No, they're the best part of life.”

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