Kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart has revealed how she begged her abductor to rape and kill her close to her house so that her parents would be able to find her body — and know for sure that she didn’t choose to run away from home.
The 33-year-old, who was famously taken from her family’s Salt Lake City home at knifepoint when she was just 14, has shared harrowing details of her experience in a candid new interview with Jada Pinkett Smith and her mother Adrienne Banfield-Norris on Red Table Talk.
‘My parents always said the worst part of having me gone was not knowing if I was alive and out there or if I was dead,’ she told the women.
‘And actually, when I was being taken up into the mountains, that first night that I was kidnapped, I asked him if he was gonna rape and kill me, and if he was gonna do that, could he please do it fairly close to my house, because it was important to me that my parents find my body and know that I hadn’t run away.’
Kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart has revealed how she begged her abductor to rape and kill her close to her house so that her parents would be able to find her body
The 33-year-old shared harrowing details of her experience in a candid new interview with Jada Pinkett Smith and her mother Adrienne Banfield-Norris on Red Table Talk
‘My parents always said the worst part of having me gone was not knowing if I was alive and out there or if I was dead,’ she said (pictured April 2003)
Fortunately, abductor and self-proclaimed prophet Brian David Mitchell didn’t kill her — but he and his wife Wanda Barzee did take her away from home, chaining her down in a makeshift campsite nearby before moving her to Lakeside, California.
She spent nine months, from June 2002 to March 2003, in captivity, with Mitchell performing a ‘marriage’ ceremony with her and raped her repeatedly.
Smart said on Red Table Talk that while she spent those nine months wishing someone would find her, there were times she lost hope she’d ever make it home.
‘I always wanted to be rescued. I don’t know that I always had hope. There were some pretty dark times for sure,’ she said.
Smart was eventually found at age 15 after witnesses in Sandy, Utah called police. One said she recognized Smart, while another said she recognized the abductor.
Looking back, Smart said that other victims — like Gabby Petito, who was discovered to have died by strangulation after a high-profile search — deserve to be found.
‘In Gabby’s case in particular, I was alive and I came home. Hers tragically has not ended that way,’ she said.
‘But knowing what it’s like being on the other side, and potentially what may have happened, and what may have led up to her final moments, and understanding probably a lot of what she was feeling, it’s heartbreaking.’
Listening to Smart, Banfield-Norris became momentarily overwhelmed and broke down in tears. ‘It’s just very, very powerful having you here,’ she said
Pinkett Smith also became emotional, and pointed out that there are a lot of missing people whose cases don’t get nearly as much coverage as Smart’s did
Listening to Smart, Banfield-Norris became momentarily overwhelmed and broke down in tears.
‘It’s just very, very powerful having you here,’ she said.
Smart also said that having her family around her supporting her made a difference in her recovery.
‘How many victims are there who are kidnapped or abused by their family members? The very ones that are supposed to protect them are the ones hurting them. And that sense of betrayal,’ she said.
‘We shouldn’t compare what we go through, but it makes me feel that I am so blessed, and I am so lucky because I was kidnapped by a stranger.’
She said that she was also fortunate to have the support of her community, because no one had ever questioned whether she was actually kidnapped or if she ran away.
‘Everything that I have always said has been accepted. And how many victims, how many survivors are not believed?’
She said this is what makes the difference between ‘moving forward and having a healthy life or bottling it inside you and then being on a different trajectory.’
Pinkett Smith points out that there are a lot of missing people whose cases don’t get nearly as much coverage as Smart’s did. She runs the name of several — including Alexis Scott, Jonathan Bandabaila, Dashad Laquinn Smith, Sophie Reeder, Artreveon Brown, Osiel Rico, and Kierra Coles — on the screen.
Smart was famously taken from her family’s Salt Lake City home at knifepoint when she was just 14
She spent nine months, from June 2002 to March 2003, in captivity, with Mitchell performing a ‘marriage’ ceremony with her and raped her repeatedly
‘When I think of all of the people — I mean, so many. So many — whose stories never even see the light of day,’ Smart said.
‘I live in this field every day, and all the time I hear stories I have never heard. And they’re not just brand new stories of ten minutes ago. They’re stories of five, ten, 20 years ago. And I’ve never heard of them. Someone is missing. Are they any less worthy? Has any less of a hole been left because they’re gone?’
Smart also spoke about she was turned off of therapy after a re-traumatizing experience immediately after she was rescued.
She recalled how she was taken to a children’s justice center the day after she got home and brought into a room with two psychiatrists, to whom she was told to speak openly about what had happened to her — so she assumed they were there to help.
‘It was two men. Middle-aged. Older. On the way to the room, they open this closet and say, “You can choose any stuffed animal you want.” And I just remember feeling condescended too, because I was like, I’m 15. I just survived nine months without a stuffed animal. I’m pretty sure I can survive whatever’s gonna happen next.’
She said she ‘immediately shut down’ because the men were about the same age as her captors.
‘They were both clearly religious, which, bravo for them, but in that situation, where I had just come out of nine months of being abused and manipulated by someone who was trying to lose religion, that just made me feel uncomfortable.’
Smart was eventually found at age 15 fter witnesses in Sandy, Utah called police. One said she recognized Smart, while another said she recognized the abductor
Smart is pictured with her parents in 2005. She said they got therapy so they could help her when she needed it
It got worse as she was asked to describe, in detail, what had happened to her. Smart said she had a sheltered upbringing and was ‘very innocent and naïve’ before her kidnapping. For example, in her home they didn’t use words like ‘penis’ and ‘vagina’ — they said ‘privates.’
But in the room with those two men, she was repeatedly pushed to explicitly describe what Mitchell had done to her.
‘They’re like, “OK, so what happened?” And I’d be like, “They hurt me.” And they’d be like, “Well how’d they hurt you?” [And I said] “Well, they molested me.” [And they said] “Well how’d they molest you?” [And I said] “Well, they raped me.” [And they said] “Well, do you know what rape is?” And I was like, “Well, yeah, he forced himself on me.”
‘And they’d be like, “Could you use the correct body parts?” So I finally had to get it down to, “He physically forced his penis into my vagina repeatedly.” That was terrible. By the time I left, I just knew that I never wanted to speak about it with anyone every again. I didn’t want to speak of what happened.’
She said it was later explained to her that the psychiatrists were there to get her testimony so they could stand in proxy for her at trial — but she didn’t know that at the time, and assumed that it was what therapy was like.
‘If this is what therapy is, I do not want it. And I refused. I refused to have therapy. Which, of course, panicked my parents. So they went and saw a therapist,’ she said.
Her parents’ therapist told them that this was OK — but they needed to be prepared ‘because ultimately you both will be her biggest therapists, and you need to be in a place where you can handle that.’
Brian David Mitchell (pictured) was convicted in 2010 and is serving a life sentence
Mitchell’s wife Wanda Barzee (right) was sentenced to 15 years in prison and in the plea deal was given credit for the seven years she already served. She was released from prison in September 2018 and now lives in the same town as Smart, despite Smart’s pleas to the parole board not to set her free
In retrospect, with a better understanding of therapy, she realizes that it could have been useful at the time — but ‘going back to every dark moment’ was not what she wanted at the time.
Smart is now a mother to three children of her own: six-year-old Chloe, four-year-old James, and two-year-old Olivia with her husband, Matthew Gilmour.
‘They are young,’ she said, ‘but someone told me that as soon as your child starts asking questions, that’s the right time to start talking to them.
‘One of my captors was coming up for parole, and I was supposed to go down to the prison that day to go give a victim impact statement. My daughter, my oldest, didn’t really want me to go and kept asking [questions].
‘I started talking to her, but it’s not in graphic detail. “When mommy was younger, there was a man who broke into my home and hurt me. And now he and his wife are in jail and I’m going down there to make sure that they stay in jail,”‘ she said.
Smart admitted that she is ‘overprotective’ as a mother, but that’s where her husband comes in to ‘pull her back down to earth.’
‘Everyone teaches you what you should do if you catch on fire. To look both ways when you cross the street. And thinking back on my exact situation, nobody really tells you what you should do in that situation.
‘When I woke up, there was a knife pressed against my throat. A little bit more pressure, and he could have just killed me.
‘I don’t regret not screaming, I don’t regret doing what he told me, because I’m still alive. And I don’t know that I would be had I not. Because I do believe that he absolutely was capable of killing me and then maybe taking my sister, or killing her too.’
Smart also spoke about she was turned off of therapy after a retraumitizing experience immediately after she was rescued
Smart is now a mother to three children of her own with her husband, Matthew Gilmour
Though Mitchell is serving life in prison, Barzee was sentenced to just 15 years in prison. In a plea deal. she was given credit for the seven years she had already served.
She was released from prison in September 2018 and now lives in the same town as Smart, despite Smart’s pleas to the parole board not to set her free.
Smart admitted she was ‘disappointed’ in the outcome, but said it gives her a greater appreciation for those victims who never even have a ‘smidgen of justice.’
‘At least I got something. How many more haven’t?’ she said.
Smart, Pinkett Smith, and Banfield-Norris also sat down with Laura Coates, a lawyer and CNN legal analyst.
Her kids are six-year-old Chloe, four-year-old James, and two-year-old Olivia
Smart is pictured with her children. Smart admitted that she is ‘overprotective’ as a mother, but that’s where her husband comes in to ‘pull her back down to earth’
‘My captors had taken me to southern California for the winter. Their plan was to kidnap seven young girls. I was just the first. And they actually made several attemps while I was with them.
convinced them to return to Utah, hitchhiked
happy to be physically closer to her family. police cars pulled up, officers jumped out and quiestoned
‘Initially, I didn’t respond
‘I don’t think I’ll ever lose my faith in humanity, because everyone kept their eyes open and just simple phone calls to the police ultimatley led to my rescue, my homecoming.