Before I dive into this case I would like to put this disclaimer out there for those of you reading.
When I am writing about true crime I want to make it very clear how much respect and empathy I have for the victims and those affected by the heinous acts of violence and terror brought forth by their assailants. I am writing these to not only bring awareness to the many victims of violent crimes but also as an educational source for anyone else wishing to explore these subjects. I plan on doing everything I can to make sure that I cover such cases in as respectful a way as I can and to tell their story with all the facts I have at my disposal.
Elizabeth Ann Smart was as normal as any other teenage girl, she loved her family, enjoyed playing her harp, and was extremely involved in her church. At only 14 years old she went through many of the same trivial conflicts that many of us had at that age. She didn’t always feel like she fit in or like she was “popular” at school but her mother always made a point to reassure young Elizabeth that these were just words and at the end of the day her family was her rock and would always be there. At the time I doubt any of them knew how very true this would turn out to be.
Being so involved in their faith, the Smart family made an active effort in reaching out to help those in need. To say they were generous would be an understatement, they didn’t just hand a homeless man a dollar and call it a day. They offered work as well at their family home. While their intentions were so kind and so pure, not everyone had the same sense of compassion and innocence. Wolves in sheep’s clothing lie in hungry wait around every corner and little did they know that this very compassion is what would bring Brian David Mitchell into their lives.
It’s a thought that makes me angry if I sit with it for too long, how true it is that often the most kindhearted individuals are those who are taken advantage of and in this specific case ripped apart from the inside out. It makes me wonder after all of it how this family can stay faithful and offer such compassion even still. Strength I believe. Strength I couldn’t even begin to understand. It’s a type of strength that no parent should ever have to hold or experience.
It was the night of June 4th, 2002. A warm summer evening in Salt Lake City Utah, the smell of potatoes Elizabeth’s mother had burned lingered in the air. The night had been busy and hectic and had only slowed down after the family of 6 children had returned home from a program at Elizabeth’s school where she played her harp. As the night came winding down to a close, Elizabeth and her younger sister Mary Katherine changed into their pajamas and settled into their room to continue reading Ella Enchanted.
Elizabeth loved the romanticism that fairy tales brought to life, the idea of true love and being swept away by a prince charming. The happily ever after. It was all so whimsical. It captivated her as it does for many little girls, because that’s what she was, a little girl. A little girl who was about to be forced into a wicked world where the idea of happily ever after would soon fade into the back of her mind and be replaced with terror.
It was dark and Elizabeth opened her eyes as she heard a voice from what she thought to be remnants of a dream. She was disoriented and still coming to but was immediately wide awake as she heard the voice again, clear this time.
“I have a knife at your neck, don’t make a sound, get up and come with me.”
Fear shot through the young girls veins as she looked up to see a tall figure at the side of her bed. She could feel the cold blade against her neck and knew now that this was not a dream. Her eyes wandered to where her 9 year old sister Mary Katherine lay still and stiff as a board. The very thought of this strange man possibly hurting her younger sister wasn’t one she could bear so she quietly obeyed the man and got up and made her way into the hallway with the stranger.
Mary Katherine lay in her bed paralyzed by the reality of what was happening. A man had come in and taken her older sister and there was nothing she could do. Moving seemed impossible and if she had wanted to scream she wasn’t sure if anything would even come out. She could see they had not yet left the house as the closet was opened in the hallway, she could see the light flicker on and then off through the crack at the bottom of her bedroom door. Still she couldn’t move. She could hear faint squeaks from their sneakers as the sounds of movement soon faded into silence. Her sister was gone, and would be for the next nine months.
It wouldn’t be until much later that Mary Katherine would go alert her parents to the horror of what had just taken place and unfortunately I have had the displeasure of hearing many people call to question, “Why didn’t she scream?” “Why didn’t she go get her parents sooner?” If you are not in that situation you just simply cannot understand what she was feeling. I think it’s also important to remind ourselves that Mary Katherine was nine. A child. These are things most adults never have to live through, you can go on to tell someone how you THINK you would have handled something all day but until you come face to face with true evil I don’t think any of us truly know what we would do. Fight or flight is talked about often and we understand the concept just fine it seems, but the freeze response is not talked about as often. Feeling such immense fear that our body fights every natural instinct to move. Fight, flight, or freeze, and while Mary Katherine froze in that moment it would ultimately be her details of that eerie night that would later put a face on the monster that the nation would soon be searching for.
In the hallway the man barked orders at the young girl trembling in her red pajamas in a hushed, angry whisper.
“Put your shoes on”
Elizabeth did as she was told and opened the hall closet quietly and began to slide on her slippers.
“Not those!” he hissed. “Running shoes.”
The terrified girl’s heart sank, as young and naïve as she was, she wasn’t at all oblivious to the fact that he planned on taking her somewhere far enough away that tennis shoes would be necessary for the journey.
“If you scream or yell I will kill you and your family.”
“Why are you doing this?” Elizabeth stuttered, fighting back the tears that begged to fall.
“I’m taking you hostage for ransom”
It was clear that there wouldn’t be further explanation, at least not in this moment.
Once she had stepped into her white running shoes he ushered her through the kitchen and out the back door, the sick reality of what was happening becoming more and more evident with every step away from her family and her home she took.
‘I’m being kidnapped’ Elizabeth thought, only now seeming to fully understand the severity of the situation.
He pushed her along, avoiding lights and any possible visibility. They made it a few blocks and now came to a vacant lot, he suddenly shoved her down behind some brush and crouched nearly on top of her. Headlights. There was a car passing and not just a car, a police cruiser. She could run, she could jump out and yell for help. Elizabeth knew she had to get away but didn’t know how, she glanced at the knife, it was large and serrated, and could probably cut through her like butter.
They sat there for 30 seconds or so but it felt like an eternity. The terrifying man actually seemed scared, maybe he would get caught. Somehow, someway that car just HAD to spot them. As they sit there she could hear her captor whisper something to himself that brought a wave of confusion over young Elizabeth.
“If this work is true God, let this car pass”
Elizabeth loved her God and the thought that this man was talking to God made her sick to her stomach, she knew it was wrong, almost in the same breath the man had asked for a sign from his God he made sure to also remind Elizabeth of what he was capable of.
“If you move I’ll kill you, one tiny peep and you know what I’ll do!”
And as the car passed without so much as slowing down, Elizabeth believed the man, she knew that her only hope was to get away from this twisted madman but her options were running out and her hope felt as though it were fading.
Now they were running up the side of the mountains that lie behind her neighborhood. There was not going to be any slowing down unless the man deemed it necessary. For now the fear of nearly being spotted by a police officer was fueling the man’s stamina. He stayed behind her, always but a few inches away, and the knife always at her back as if to remind her that there was no way out, she wouldn’t be coming back down this mountain.
Elizabeth stopped for a moment, tears staining her cheeks, to make one final plea to her kidnapper.
“If you’re going to rape and kill me…please…please just do it here” The little girl begged through broken sobs.
Elizabeth had nearly accepted that her fate would probably end in murder, again as naïve as she was at 14, she wasn’t ignorant to all of the atrocities in the world. In her mind she had absolved that at least if he were going to assault and kill her here that there would be a chance her body would be found. They weren’t so far up the mountain yet that her remains would lay untouched and unnoticed for years to come. If he killed her here there was hope that her family would at least know what happened to her.
At 14 years old and in a matter of maybe an hour this was a decision that this young child felt she needed to make. “If you’re going to kill me, do it here” The more I think of this moment and this terrified girl saying that to the monster who came crashing into her life the more angry I get. To sit here and really let it sink in what that child must have been feeling in that moment is nearly impossible, accepting the fate no child…NO PERSON should have to ever think about. It breaks my heart for her.
The strange bearded man smiled at Elizabeth, but not in a comforting way, a lustful smirk more like. She stayed quiet for a moment waiting for him to say something.
“Oh I’m not going to rape and murder you yet”
Sources for Part 1
My Story: Elizabeth Smart with Chris Stewart
If you’re interested in reading this book, I linked it on amazon below (:
Elizabeth Smarts Story (Part 1) Biography: Found on youtube