In 2002, Elizabeth Smart, a 14-year-old girl from a Mormon family in Salt Lake City, was abducted, raped, and chained for nine months by religious zealot Brian David Mitchell and his wife Wand Barzee. In a new memoir, My Story, Smart has told her own account of her ordeal, writing that she tried several times to flee and was once almost rescued by a homicide detective. We speed-read the book for the nine biggest revelations.
1. The Moment Mitchell Decided Smart ‘Was the One’
The first time Brian David Mitchell saw Elizabeth Smart was in November 2001. “We had just walked out of the ZCMI store,” Smart recalls. “The beggar was hard to ignore, standing among the well-dressed crowd.” Mitchell had no beard and didn’t wear ragged robes then; “he was clean-cut and well groomed.” Smart’s mother walked toward him and handed him $5. “What I didn’t know—but would later learn—was that he had been watching me very carefully as we walked toward him…he decided at that moment that I was the one.” Smart’s mother and father gave him their cellphone number and hired him to do some handyman’s jobs in the house.
2. The Words Mitchell Spoke as He Abducted Her
In the early hours of June 5, 2002, Mitchell broke into the Smart house—“my mother had burned something on the stove and my dad had left the window open just a crack to air things out.” Mitchell later told Smart that he had hesitated: “If God wants me to do this, He will allow it,” he told himself. “I woke up with my little sister sleeping beside me, a dark man standing over me, and a knife to my throat. Rough hands were pressed upon my body as the stranger leaned over, his dirty beard against my face. ‘I have a knife to your neck,’ he whispered. His voice was soft but very serious. ‘Don’t make a sound. Get out of bed, or I’ll kill you and your family.’” Mitchell marched her out of the house and onto a trail in the woods. After several hours of hiking, they arrived at a camp where his wife, Wanda Barzee, was waiting. “The first thing she did was walk up and put her arms around me, pulling me into a strong embrace. But it was not a warm thing.”
3. How Mitchell’s Wife Sanctioned the Rape
Mitchell ordered her into a tent full of dirty bedding and forced himself on her. “I haven’t even started my period. I’m still a child!” Smart screamed. He hesitated and asked Barzee, “Is it still okay?” Barzee replied, “It’s okay.” “Over the next nine months, Brian David Mitchell would rape me every day, sometimes multiple times a day. He would torture and brutalize me in ways that are impossible to describe, would starve and manipulate me like I was an animal. Many times I would think, Okay, this is the bottom. Things couldn’t get any worse. But whenever I began to think that way, I would quickly find out that I was wrong.”
4. Mitchell Was Crazy Like a Fox
Mitchell, who had a teenage conviction for pedophilia, was married three times, had 13 children and stepchildren, and married Barzee “on the very day that the divorce from his second wife had been finalized.” He also had addictions to drugs, alcohol, and pornography. He called himself the prophet Immanuel and took to preaching in the streets. He ranted and raved in gibberish, always talking about himself, but was also very intelligent. “Some say that he is brilliant,” Smart writes, and he was certainly brilliant at plotting and manipulating. Barzee married Smart to Mitchell—her new name was Shearjashub, but she preferred her new middle name, which was Esther. Barzee was Hephzibah. Mitchell was Immanuel. “The word crazy rolled around my head.” When they ran out of food, he would “go down to Babylon to plunder,” which means stealing from grocery stores. Mitchell also forced Smart to drink lots of wine.
5. The Detective Who Nearly Saved Her
Mitchell chained Smart to a steel cable and also locked her to the network of wires and cables around the camp. She tried running twice but was severely punished after getting caught. Mitchell started taking Smart on regular trips to Salt Lake City, but her head would be entirely covered by veils except for her eyes peering out. When they went one day to the Salt Lake City Public Library to study where they might go for the winter, a homicide detective named Jon Richey approached them, asking to remove Smart’s veil and see her face. “It’s over! I’m going home!” Smart said to herself. “Then I felt a hand clamp down on my leg…feeling Barzee’s hand upon my leg made my heart stop.” She thought about Mitchell’s threat to kill her whole family. Mitchell refused the detective’s request, saying that it is strictly forbidden by his religion to reveal his daughter’s face. The officer kept pressing him, but Mitchell answered his questions without hesitation, and eventually the detective gave up. “As I watched him go down the stairs, every ray of hope that I had ever felt was instantly wiped away.” Why did Smart not cry out for help, but simply sat there? “Because I am completely overwhelmed with fear!”
6. How Smart Got Mitchell to Return to Salt Lake
After the library incident, Mitchell took Barzee and Smart to San Diego. After a few months, Mitchell began to suspect that investigators might come into their camp, so he talked about going to New York, Boston, or Philadelphia. But Smart knew her best chance at being rescued was back in Salt Lake, so she manipulated Mitchell the way he would others. “Do you think you could ask God if we should go back to Salt Lake?” Smart told Mitchell after prayers. “You are His seer. You are practically His best friend!” “I think you are right, Shearjashub,” Mitchell said, and decided to go back.
7. Inside the Walmart Rescue
They returned to Salt Lake in March, and on their way back to camp, they went inside a Walmart to steal some items. When they left the store, a few police cars pulled up and asked to see Mitchell’s ID. “What is your name?” one officer asked Smart. At first, she was silent, and Mitchell repeated the lies that she was his daughter. But when police saw that Smart was too afraid even to answer, they pulled her aside and asked her again. “I am Elizabeth,” she finally answered.
8. The Best Advice She Ever Got
Smart was reunited with her family, and Mitchell was convicted of kidnapping her and sentence to life in federal prison without parole. Barzee was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison. Smart became an advocate for children’s rights and is the president of her own foundation. She met her husband, Matthew Gilmour, while on her Mormon mission in Paris, and the two were married in Hawaii on February 18, 2012. Smart says her mother has given her the best advice she’s ever gotten. “Elizabeth, what this man has done to you, it’s terrible, there aren’t words strong enough to describe how wicked and evil he is. He has stolen nine months of your life from you that you will never get back. But the best punishment you could ever give him is to be happy, is to move forward with your life and to do exactly what you want to do...The best thing you can do is move forward because by feeling sorry for yourself and holding on to what’s happened, that’s only allowing him more power and more control over your life, and he doesn’t deserve another second. So be happy.”
9. Her Ghostwriter Is a GOP Congressman
The co-writer of Smart’s book is Rep. Chris Stewart, a Republican from Utah. They are both Mormon, and Smart’s father, Ed, put the two in touch after they met at a speaking event, before Stewart decided to run for Congress. He has written seven books, including the New York Times bestsellers Seven Miracles That Saved America and The Miracle of Freedom: Seven Tipping Points that Saved the World.