At first the details of what happened to Elizabeth Smart seem straightforward. Horrific, but straightforward. On June 5, 2002, the then 14-year-old Smart was abducted from her bedroom at night. Nine months later she was rescued after police found her. But the Elizabeth Smart details are much more confusing and disturbing. She lived with her captor, Brian David Mitchell, and his wife, Wanda Barzee, for nine months. She suffered sexual assault and humiliation on a daily basis, often being force-fed alcohol and being brainwashed by her captors. She lived in hell.
But so much remained unexplained. Mitchell took Smart to parties, in disguise, they walked around the people of Utah unnoticed. She was right in front of everyone's eyes all along, even as a nationwide search mounted for the missing girl. It was a tragic and upsetting case of abuse, horrors, and ultimately, survival. Because not only was Elizabeth Smart found and rescued, she got her life back and became a symbol of strength to other women who had suffered. She overcame adversity that many of can't even imagine, let alone understand.
Elizabeth's Nine-Year-Old Sister Watched The Whole Thing
Elizabeth's sister Mary Katherine was just nine when her sister was kidnapped. They shared a room and Mary Katherine woke up during the kidnapping, but pretended to be asleep, making her the only witness to the crime. She waited until she thought the captors were gone, and got up to tell her parents - but almost ran into Elizabeth and her kidnapper in the hallway. "I thought, you know, be quiet, because if he hears you, he might take you too, and you're the only person who has seen this," Mary Katherine explained in an interview. "I was, like, shaking." She returned to bed. A few of hours later, she went and told her parents.
When they went to police, Mary Katherine's details weren't reliable. She thought the man head threatened her sister with a gun, but it was a knife. She thought he was wearing light clothes, he was wearing black. Interestingly, she thought his voice sounded familiar but wasn't sure from where. But her memories were so jumbled they were considered unreliable.
The Plan Was To Make Elizabeth The Second Out Of Five Wives
The kidnapper, Brian David Mitchell, had indeed set his eyes on Elizabeth while doing work with her family. Apparently, he had become fixated on her and made her part of his grand plan. She was to be the second of an eventual five wives.
When he snuck into her room that night, Elizabeth later revealed he said, "Don't make a sound. Get out of bed, or I'll kill you and your family." That threat worked - she went with him.
Mitchell Was Sentenced To Two Life Sentences, And Barzee Was Granted Early Release In September 2018
Despite the horrific ordeal Smart was put through, it took a long time to see Mitchell stand trial. He was declared incompetent to stand trial at first, though this was later amended. When Mitchell did eventually appear in court, Smart addressed him directly with unyielding courage, expressing how he would never be able to affect her again. Finally, in 2010 Mitchell was convicted. He was eventually sentenced to two life sentences in federal prison.
In November 2009, Brazee was sentenced to 15 years for her part in the kidnapping. Authorities released her from federal prison in 2016, but she was then sentenced to 1-15 years in state prison for the attempted kidnapping of Smart's cousin. In June 2018, Barzee's lawyer tried to argue her time in federal should count towards her state sentence, but his request was denied. Barzee was supposed to stay in prison until 2024, but the parole board had a change of heart and decided to release Barzee in September 2018. The parole board issued a statement:
The Board of Pardons and Parole had previously operated under the understanding, that the six years Ms. Barzee spent in federal prison did not count toward her state sentence. However, a recent legal review of the state sentence, statutes, and case law has made clear that the federal time does count toward her state sentence... The Board of Pardons and Parole does not have legal authority to hold Ms. Barzee beyond September 19, 2018.
Smart voiced her concern about Barzee's early release, acknowledging she doesn't have any legal options but hoping those with parole power will think twice:
She is a woman who had six children and yet could co-conspire to kidnap a 14-year-old girl, and not only sit next to her while (she was) being raped, but encouraged her husband to continue to rape me. So, do I believe she I dangerous? Yes, but not just to me. I believe that she is a danger and a threat to any vulnerable person in our community.
After The Kidnapping, She Was Kept Tied To A Tree Close To Her Home
After the kidnapping, Smart began to endure nine months of hell. To make matters worse, she wasn't kept that far from her own home, but had no way to reach or contact her family. According to CNN, "Smart was kept at a campsite a few miles from her home. She was sometimes tethered to a tree or hidden in a hole. She once heard her uncle calling for her, but was unable to answer."
Her kidnapper threatened to kill her family, so she felt she couldn't try to escape. She had to suffer through hearing search parties and loved ones calling to her, but not being able to reply.