Irish Gazette

“I Am Elizabeth Smart”

14-year old Elizabeth Smart was snatched from her own bed in the middle of the night in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2002

Heidi Hanson, Writer

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Elizabeth Smart (far left) & Brian David Mitchell (far right) during her captivity.

The Kidnapping

June 5th, 2002

“I have a knife at your neck, don’t make a sound. Get up and come with me.”

These were the words that Elizabeth Smart woke up to in the middle of the night of  June 5th, 2002. She had gone to bed the previous night with apprehension about the following months, as she had just graduated middle school. She had laid next to her little sister, Mary Katherine, and had fallen fast asleep. When she woke up to the feeling of sharp metal against her neck, all she knew was that her sister was alive and awake; in fear that he would kill Mary Katherine, she had gone with the man. In her own kitchen, she heard the voice next to her again, “Make a sound and I’ll kill you and your family.” What followed her then was nine whole months of captivity and torture in the mountains of Salt Lake City, Utah right behind her house.

Meeting her Alleged Captors

Brain David Mitchell & Wanda Barzee

That voice that took 14-year-old Elizabeth out of her own bed that night was Brian David Mitchell. The religious fanatic claimed to be an angel sent down from heaven to restore the fundamentals of religion. He had called himself ‘Immanuel’ and also claimed to have kidnapped Smart for the reason that he had been told by God to “save his precious daughters”. But what he did to Elizabeth was anything but saving.

On that night in June 2002, Mitchell had taken Smart behind her own house to lead her up and over a mountain and into a camp. They had started to walk shortly after midnight and didn’t arrive until the sunrise. “I will kill you if you make a noise,” He said to her. “I will kill whoever comes up here to find you.” When they arrived, a woman came out of a tent sitting in the valley in front of them. This woman was Wanda Barzee, Mitchell’s wife. Smart had said that she was one of the scariest parts of arriving to the camp. “I remember she came out and she had on robes and she had on a headdress and she came up to me and she hugged me,” Smart stated in a 2013 interview with CNN. “But this hug was not comforting. I mean, if hugs could speak this hug would have said, ‘You’re mine, you will do exactly what I tell you to do.’” On that very first day, Barzee had forced Smart out of her pajamas and into matching robes.  She would have to wear those robes almost every day for the next nine months.

Hell on Earth

“My kidnapping consisted of hunger, boredom, and rape.”

What also began that day was the constant sexual abuse by Mitchell. “The next nine months, my days consisted of being hungry, of being bored to death because he talked nonstop always about himself,” she said in the same CNN interview. “I mean, talk about self-absorbed. And then my days consisted of being raped. I mean, not just once, multiple times a day.”

After that first day, she woke to find her captors tying her to a tree with cables around her ankles. Her mobility was only twenty feet in any direction. Over those nine months, Smart has said that whenever she thought she had hit rock bottom, Mitchell would find something else to make things worse. He had begun to bring alcohol and drugs such as marijuana into the camp and then forcing Smart to consume them. He said that ‘in order to experience the purity of God, you have to experience the worst things that go against his rules’. Smart had woken up a morning after that with vomit encrusting her face and hair to the ground she was laying on. She has stated this to be one of her lowest moments.

A New Suspect


About halfway through her captivity, Elizabeth’s younger sister, Mary Katherine, finally put a name to the voice she heard in the early morning of June 5th. Earlier, she had said in an interview that the voice had sounded vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t remember where she had heard it. She had gone to her parents saying that the voice belonged to Immanuel, a local beggar who had done yard work for the family just months before the kidnapping. Until the point that police investigators started to suspect Immanuel, they had been investigating a man named Richard Ricci; he had had a criminal record. He died during the investigation but was still on the suspect list. It took awhile for police to suspect this seemingly strange “Immanuel”, and even harder for people to watch for him when that finally happened. When he had done yard work for the Smarts he had a clean-shaven face, but as of the kidnapping, he had a long beard and long hair, as if to resemble Jesus. As the police started to suspect him more, he was put on America’s Most Wanted.

Lost Hope & Lost Ways

Hidden in Plain Sight

At one point, Mitchell had started to bring Barzee and Smart to grocery store visits and around the town. Mitchell had actually brought them to a house party, where the eerie photo shown above was taken. The photo shows Elizabeth in the robe that her captors put her in, her eyes peeking out of the small slit of a burka. Mitchell is shown to the right, talking to a man that had attended the house party. “I was really hidden in plain sight.” Smart had said in a documentary, My Story. One of these days they went to the library to look at California destinations when a police officer arrived and walked toward their three-person group. They were dressed in the robes, and the officer had grown suspicious, as he got a call earlier from a woman who had thought she’d seen Smart. After some questioning, he believed that the robed girl standing right in front of him was not Elizabeth Smart as he first suspected. “At that point, I would break and tell the officer that I was indeed Elizabeth,” Keilani Sandkamp, freshman of RHS says. “It saddens me that she didn’t feel she was safe enough to yell after that officer even then when they were in the public library.” Mitchell had told him that the robes were for religious purposes, and that the girl was just his daughter; he was convincing enough to make the officer’s suspicions vanish. “I remember watching that police officer be fully convinced that I wasn’t Elizabeth Smart, and turn around, and walk out of the library,” Elizabeth states in a documentary, Elizabeth’s Story. “And that was almost just as bad as being kidnapped, being raped, as being chained up.” At that point during Smart’s captivity, Mitchell had brought her and Barzee to California, where Smart panicked. Her thought was if no one was finding her in her home state, then who would find her in California? She ended up finding a way to trick Mitchell, saying God had spoken to her and said that they need to go back to Utah. She told him that he should speak with God, and the next day he claimed that he had experienced the same ordeal, and they went back. She had succeeded in manipulating her own kidnapper.

Her Discovery

March 12th, 2003

On the day of March 12th, 2003, the three-person group had gone into a grocery store, still robed, where Smart realized that along with a line of ‘missing person’ fliers, her face was not among them. She first thought was that people had stopped looking for her, and she almost immediately started to lose the last bit of hope she had. Little did she know that a woman had seen Mitchell and suspected that it was him, and had called the police. As they were walking down the sidewalk along the street, police car after police car started pulling up beside them until they were surrounded. As they got out started asking questions, they asked the seemingly young girl if she was Elizabeth Smart, but even then, she hesitated. “What if the policemen didn’t believe me?” Smart says in the same documentary, Elizabeth’s Story. “What if they release me back to Mitchell and Barzee, what would they do to me then? What would they do to my family?” She had not said anything until she was brought to the nearby police station when her father came into the room. “And I just started crying,” Her father says, “And finally, I said, ‘Elizabeth, is it you?’ and she said, ‘Yes dad it’s really me,’ and then she started to cry.”

Elizabeth Smart Today

Her Recovery

Brian David Mitchell was sentenced to life in federal prison; Wanda was sentenced 15 years in 2010, according to CNN. Today, Elizabeth Smart is happily married with two children. She has said that her Mormon faith is what helped her hold on the most during those tortuous 9 months. In an interview with National Public Radio, Smart says, “So during my kidnapping, there were moments when I felt so low. I felt like I didn’t have anybody to turn to except God. He was sending me guardian angels to help me make it through my darkest moments.” In October of 2013, Smart published her memoir titled, My Story. She published the book to spread more awareness about her story so victims of similar abuse and similar situations would know that they’re not alone. She has had many interviews, several documentaries made about her story and many speeches she presented; for instance, she had a TedTalk in 2014 called “My Story” where she explains what happened to her and how she survived.

“Why didn’t you try to escape?”

Smart’s Insight

Smart has received the question “Why didn’t you try to escape?” many times since her rescue. In some perspectives, there is some confusion revolving around the fact that she didn’t try to escape. However, she did have one escape attempt during her captivity; Mitchell and Barzee were both intoxicated when the attempt occurred, but the attempt still failed. Mitchell had caught Elizabeth near the exit of the camp and had stopped her from escaping. Smart has said that she actually finds this question relatively offensive, as people assume she just didn’t have the strength or bravery the escape. But that’s not the case; many times during her captivity, Smart’s captors had threatened to kill her and/or her family if she tried to escape. “You can never judge a child or a victim of any crime on what they should have done, because you weren’t there and you don’t know and you have no right just to sit in your armchair at home and say ‘Well, why didn’t you escape? Why didn’t you do this?’ I mean, they just don’t know,” she said in the CNN interview. “That’s wrong. And I was 14. I was a little girl. And I had seen this man successfully kidnap me, he successfully chained me up, he successfully raped me, he successfully did all of these things. What was to say that he wouldn’t kill me when he’d make those threats to me? What was to say that he wouldn’t kill my family?”

“I am Elizabeth Smart”

Recent Lifetime Movie

If you are a frequent watcher of the Lifetime channel and/or general primetime television, you may or may not be aware of the new Lifetime movie that came out on November 18th, 2017. 2017 marks 15 years since her kidnapping. I am Elizabeth Smart follows Elizabeth’s story, from when she was captured to when she was found. Smart says that the emotion and fear are portrayed almost perfectly by Alana Boden, the actress playing Elizabeth in the film. “It is really the best worst movie I’ve ever seen,” Smart says. Her reason for putting her story out there in a film is to spread more awareness about kidnapping and rape and to show that other victims in various circumstances are not alone.

I am Elizabeth Smart Trailer: Editors. “Elizabeth Smart.”, A&E Television Networks, 9 Nov. 2017,


Duke, Alan. “Elizabeth Smart Book Shares ‘100%’ of Her Kidnapping Terror.” CNN, Cable News Network, 8 Oct. 2013,


“(FULL) Elizabeth’s Story, A Meredith Vieira Special.” YouTube, 21 Oct. 2013,


“Elizabeth Smart Shares About Her Faith And Kidnapping.” NPR. NPR, 31 Dec. 2013. Web. 13 Nov. 2017. Save to EasyBib

TEDxTalks. “My Story | Elizabeth Smart | TEDxUniversityofNevada.” YouTube. YouTube, 31 Jan. 2014. Web. 13 Nov. 2017. Save to EasyBib


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“I Am Elizabeth Smart”