Elizabeth Smart shares her story with full auditorium

Kidnapping survivor speaks on campus as part of the Delta Gamma Lectureship Series on Values and Ethics

Elizabeth Smart presents at the Chester Fritz Auditorium. Photo by Jennifer Friese/The Dakota Student.

Elizabeth Smart, a kidnapping survivor and public speaker,  traveled to Grand Forks last Monday night to share her nationally-followed story of abduction and escape, and the Chester Fritz Auditorium was over capacity as thousands of supporters eagerly waited to hear about her hardship.

Smart’s appearance was part of the Delta Gamma Lectureship Series on Values and Ethics, and organizers Stephanie LaDue and Sonja Collin were pleased with how the event turned out.

“She couldn’t have been more wonderful,” LaDue said. “We wanted to bring a speaker in to talk about values, ethics and doing good things, and (Smart) certainly met that goal. We hope everyone gained something from this lectureship and the ones moving forward.”

Smart, a Salt Lake City, Utah native, began her speech by talking a little bit about her large and loving family. The second-eldest of five kids, she had a busy and loud life.

She told the audience, which was one of the largest she’s ever spoken to, how when she was 14, she was lying in bed on a normal night at home when a man appeared and held a knife to her throat, threatening to kill her.

He proceeded to lead her out of the house and take her to his remote campsite in the mountains, where he abused her.

Smart said she wanted to die after the nine months of hell, but thoughts of her family made her promise herself she would do whatever it took to get back home alive, which she did.

After moving to California with her captors, Brian Mitchell and Wanda Barzee, Smart told the two she had been praying and God told her they needed to go back to Utah. Mitchell claimed to be very religious and wanted Smart to really see God, so he took this as a sign and returned to her home state, where three people called the police within minutes of each other to report suspicions about seeing Smart.

After police found them and she finally admitted her identity, Smart went back to a fairly normal life at home, but she said her experience got her to look further into trafficking and slavery around the world, and the staggering statistics drove her to share her story and advocate for those without voices.

“Today there are 18 million people in slavery — more than ever,” Smart said. “If you asked me 14 years ago where I’d be, I never would have dreamed that I would be here.”

Smart, now 27, has been very involved politically, advocating for the AMBER Alert system and then starting the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, which works to educate citizens and prevent abductions from occurring. The foundation is now partnering with Operation Underground Railroad, which sends out sting operations to rescue trafficked people around the world.

Smart said her story has allowed her to connect with thousands of other people, and there is still a lot more work to be done.

Marie Monson is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected].