Elizabeth Smart made headlines when she was kidnapped from her own bed on June 5th, 2002. After the young teenager went missing, her face was everywhere. Her parents, Ed and Lois, pleaded through the media for their daughter to be brought home safely, and a massive search effort began. Years after this horrific incident came to an end, Ed Smart found himself in the spotlight once again.
The parents are no strangers to the limelight; they spent a lot of time talking to the press when their 14-year-old daughter Elizabeth went missing. But almost 20 years after Elizabeth was brought home safely, Ed’s stunning confession thrust his daughter right back into the public eye.
Taken From Her Bed
Nine-year-old Mary Katherine was terrified when she saw her sister taken at knifepoint from their shared bedroom in the middle of the night. At the time, she pretended to be asleep and was worried he would hurt Elizabeth if somebody saw something. Of course, she eventually woke up her parents once Elizabeth and the abductor were gone.
She described the suspect as a dark-haired, white man in his 40s who measured about 5’8”. Unfortunately, since it was the middle of the night, she didn’t get a good look at his face.
The Nightmare Begins
Terrified that she would also get kidnapped, Mary Katherine panicked and stayed in her bed for over two hours before telling her parents. Ed and Lois initially believed their daughter simply had a bad dream. But shortly after, their real-life nightmare began.
Her parents searched the house for Elizabeth, but she was nowhere to be found. Her parents began to worry. When they noticed an open screen window in the kitchen, it seemed like the abduction wasn’t Mary Katherine’s imagination after all. This was really happening.
Searching for Elizabeth
So, Ed and Lois called the police and did everything in their power to find their daughter. As they begged for her safe return, their faces were regularly seen on television. Two thousand volunteers from the community helped search for Elizabeth.
The Laura Recovery Center also helped conduct a highly extensive search mission all over the area. Police needed to first rule out family members so they wasted precious time. When it comes to missing children, every minute is important. Unfortunately, the investigation didn’t get off to a great start.
No Helpful Leads
They just didn’t have much to go on, so it seemed like there was little hope in finding Elizabeth. Police barely had any evidence to work with; there was no DNA, no fingerprints, and none of the hundreds of people they questioned gave a concrete lead.
Obviously, this was devastating and frustrating for her family. The desperate parents were determined to keep their daughter’s face and name in the public’s mind by frequently talking to the media. Against all odds, their strategy paid off.
A Familiar Voice
Then, there was finally a break in the case. About four months after her sister was kidnapped, Mary Katherine suddenly remembered something. She claimed that she recognized the voice of the man and believed it belonged to a man named Immanuel.
Immanuel was jobless so, the Smarts had hired him to do some work on their home as an act of kindness. The Smarts hired a sketch artist to create a picture of the man they remembered. His face was plastered all over the television in the hopes of catching him.
Brian David Mitchell
After a frustrating and heartbreaking case, they finally had something to work with. Amazingly, the release of the sketch brought the most promising leads of the whole investigation. Family members of a man named Brian David Mitchell believed that the man in the drawing looked like him and went to authorities with this information.
Thankfully, when more recent pictures of Mitchell were shown on TV, there was one viewer who paid extra close attention. The person in question was hanging out in the Utah city of Sandy, when they noticed a familiar face.
A Young Girl in a Veil
So, who was the man this woman saw? It was the very same man she saw on television, the suspect in connection to Elizabeth Smart’s abduction. After getting this useful tip, cops were able to track down Mitchell, who was with a woman and a young girl at the time.
The two ladies were dressed in a veil, wig, and sunglasses. The girl accompanying them was soon identified as Elizabeth Smart. After a heartbreaking nine months, it was shocking that Elizabeth wasn’t just found, but she was alive, safe, and seemed to be doing okay physically. Of course, much therapy was needed to help with the mental and psychological trauma the abduction caused her.
A Dreadful Nine Months
When news broke that Elizabeth Smart was brought home alive and relatively well, the public was thrilled. What a heartwarming end to a heartbreaking story. After the excitement of Elizabeth’s return, the public wondered what exactly happened to the 14-year-old during those long nine months.
Well, after being taken from her family home in the middle of the night, she was brought to a rural campsite just outside of Salt Lake City. There she was introduced to Wanda Barzee, Mitchell’s partner. Then, disturbingly, Elizabeth was forced to take part in a ceremony where she had to “marry” this man.
An Angel From God
Mitchell also told Elizabeth that he was an angel with a very clear plan that he believed came from God. Allegedly, the abductor declared that he would “emerge in seven years, be stoned by a mob, lie dead in the streets for three days and then rise up and kill the Antichrist.”
If that isn’t creepy enough, Mitchell told the helpless, young girl that he intended to abduct several other girls in his attempt to defeat the Devil. Elizabeth was shocked and scared during those dreadful months with these two psychopaths.
Corrupting Innocent Elizabeth
Obviously, it was a distressing situation, but things only got worse for Elizabeth. She revealed that she was tied and chained to a tree so that she couldn’t run away. According to her court testimony, she was also sexually assaulted repeatedly and was constantly getting death threats.
In addition to this disturbing ordeal, Elizabeth was forced to consume drugs and alcohol which was something she never thought she would do. Elizabeth was raised Mormon and all these things went against her faith. She was also deprived of food and water. Wanda Barzee played a central role in all of this. Elizabeth described her as “the most evil woman” she ever encountered.
Moving to California
If that wasn’t degrading enough, Elizabeth’s abductor wanted her to forget all about her old life and even made her change her name. Elizabeth was told to pick a name from the Bible, and she chose Esther. Three months after her kidnapping, Elizabeth’s captors moved to San Diego County, California.
There, the three of them were always looking for new places to take shelter, usually in the dead of night. While Mitchell ended up in jail in 2003, it was on suspicion of entering a church unlawfully. It seems like a missed opportunity to save Elizabeth if you ask me.
Back to Utah
After the trio moved to California, Elizabeth knew she needed to get back to Salt Lake City so that someone would recognize and rescue her. Elizabeth was smart and strategic. The brave girl stated multiple times that she did not have Stockholm syndrome and that everything she did was to stay alive.
Since she was captured, Elizabeth spent pretty much all of her time studying Immanuel’s wicked mind and knew what to say in order to manipulate him. She finally told him that God spoke to her and told her that the three of them need to get back to Utah. Immanuel bought it.
A Close Call
There was another close call prior. In August 2002, while the trio was visiting a library in Salt Lake City, Mitchell and Barzee almost got caught when they raised suspicions with their unusual attire, which was intended to conceal their identities, specifically Elizabeth’s.
Somehow, the peculiar couple wasn’t questioned further and dodged additional scrutiny. Mitchell convinced the police that the young girl they were with was their daughter, Augustine, and she couldn’t take off her face-covering for religious reasons. I don’t know how they got away with that one, but the cops bought it.
There was one occasion when Immanuel took Elizabeth and Wanda to a party. Their faces were concealed, but they were out in public. Many people who attended the party thought it was strange that this guy was with this little girl, but they had no clue that he had abducted her. The three were eventually thrown out of the party because of Immanuel’s excessive drinking and erratic behavior.
Many people criticized Elizabeth for not telling anyone there. The terrified girl explained that she knew what Immanuel was capable of. What if no one believed her and she had to go back with him? He might kill her for almost getting him caught. She knew she needed to be very careful.
Crazy or Evil?
However, being out in public with Elizabeth did ultimately lead to Mitchell and Barzee’s downfall. After she was rescued, Mitchell was taken to Utah State Hospital, where he was detained and psychologically evaluated. Obviously, he wasn’t all there.
But was he crazy? Or just an evil human being? His defense team and experts claimed that this man was delusional and therefore unfit to stand trial. However, the court disagreed. The “I’m crazy” excuse is used way too often; it’s clear that no sane person acts this way, but after what he did to Elizabeth, he shouldn’t get away with it because he’s not “mentally stable.”
Life in the Slammer
Mitchell’s shameless crimes caught up to him as he failed to negotiate claims of mental incompetence. In 2010, he was forced to stand trial. The jury was pleased to send this guy away.
In December of that year, he was convicted for Elizabeth’s abduction and was given two life sentences. Barzee was also found guilty by a jury, but she got off easy with a short 15 years behind bars. If you ask me, she deserved so much more for her part in holding and harming a child.
After already spending six years in federal prison awaiting her sentencing, Barzee was released in September 2018 at the age of 72. I don’t really care how old she is. The fact that she is out roaming freely is absolutely terrifying.
Barzee is a registered sex offender, but despite that shameful status, it was reported in late 2018 that she was living in an elementary school vicinity in Salt Lake City. WHY IS THIS ALLOWED?! Her parole under federal supervision is scheduled to end in 2023. Salt Lake City residents, hide your kids, hide your wife, hide your husband.
What’s more important is Elizabeth and how she dealt with the trauma from her nine-month abduction. She was thrown into the spotlight at first with some media appearances. She sat with her parents in 2003, for an interview with Katie Couric on Dateline NBC.
Shortly after, she followed that up with an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show. On the one hand, Elizabeth wanted to put this mess behind her and move on. But at the same time, the public who had helped search for her and prayed for her safe return wanted to hear what had happened.
Trying to Move On
Elizabeth was frustrated because she didn’t want to be defined by what happened to her, but since her disappearance was so public, she pretty much was. During a 2016 interview with Nancy Grace, Elizabeth was asked continuously about her kidnapping and she wasn’t having it.
The frustrated girl clapped back saying “I am… not [here] to go into what – you know, what happened to me… I’m really not going to talk about this at this time… and to be frankly honest, I really don’t appreciate you bringing all this up.”
Drawing Good From the Bad
Even though Elizabeth wanted to move on, that’s not to say she didn’t use her traumatic experience to do good. She believes that those months of pain she endured would only be worth it if she could do something to help someone else.
She spoke in front of Congress in 2006 about the AMBER alert system. Five years after that, she started her own eponymous foundation. The organization teamed up with the Internet Crimes Against Children task force, in an attempt to raise awareness about sexual and violent crimes.
Sharing Her Story
Elizabeth continued to use her experience to advocate on behalf of the powerless. She delivered a stirring speech at Johns Hopkins University in 2013, where she discussed human trafficking. She followed that up in 2014, by bravely testifying in support of a child sexual abuse prevention bill at the Utah State House of Representatives.
Elizabeth felt so ashamed after she was raped. Especially since she was Mormon, she almost felt like this man ruined her. She wanted to make sure other girls know that it isn’t their fault; getting raped, or being intimate in general, doesn’t make you worthless.
Leaning on Her Faith
Throughout this entire fiasco, Elizabeth maintained her faith and made time for religion. She served as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and in 2009 she headed over to Paris for her year-long mission.
In a 2015 video for the religious campaign Faith Counts, Smart admitted that her belief in God was her only source of comfort during her dreadful time with Mitchell and Barzee. Every time she nearly lost hope, she remembered her faith and leaned on that.
Despite those horrific nine months that could have destroyed her young life, Elizabeth stayed strong and continues to overcome the trauma. She refuses to let these two terrible people cause her any more pain. And thankfully, she got her happy ending in the end.
During her time in Paris, Elizabeth met a fellow missionary from Scotland, Matthew Gilmour. The two quickly hit it off and began dating. In February 2012, the couple exchanged vows and started a life and family together. They now have three children: Chloe, James, and Olivia.
I Am Elizabeth Smart
After all this time, it looks as though Elizabeth has finally come to terms with her abduction. She worked as producer and narrator of the movie I Am Elizabeth Smart. Lifetime aired the movie exactly 15 years from the fateful day she was abducted from her family home.
The film depicts the kidnapping, the aftermath, and what she endured in those nine months. Alana Boden did an amazing job starring as Elizabeth. The movie was made incredibly well but might be disturbing for some viewers. It gave me nightmares.
Back in the Spotlight
Elizabeth’s story is far from over. She can never get those traumatic nine months back. She is a brave, young woman who seems to have a good head on her shoulders and continuously tries to use her amazing story to help other girls. What is important is that she was brought home.
When the movie came out in 2017, the case regained some attention, but eventually, the hype died down. I mean, everyone in America knew Elizabeth Smart’s name. However, the family took the spotlight again in 2019 when Ed revealed on Facebook that he and Lois had split. The reason made headline news.
A Shocking Revelation
So, why is this divorce getting so much attention? Because Ed admitted, he was gay. I guess the reason it was such a big deal is that they are Mormon. The father of six revealed that “I am finally acknowledging a part of me that I have struggled with most of my life and never wanted to accept.”
Ed went on, “I have recently acknowledged to myself and my family that I am gay. The decision to be honest and truthful about my orientation comes up with its own set of challenges, but at the same time it is a huge relief.” Good for him! Still, it begs the question, what made 64-year-old Ed come out so late in life?
Living in Sin?
Ed confessed that he could no longer align himself with the viewpoints of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or the Mormon Church. He explained that he’s “mostly watched in silence for years as many LGBTQ individuals both in and out of the Church have been victims of ridicule, shunning, rejection and outright humiliation.” He couldn’t stand by anymore.
It should be noted that Ed’s former church allows children with LGBTQ parents to be baptized, but its overall attitude toward homosexuality isn’t exactly enlightened. Mormons’ faith describes same-sex relations as a sin. They also believe the marriage between two men or two women is a “serious transgression.”
An Openly Gay Mormon
Ed didn’t deny his involvement in the church and admitted that religion was a “major part of [his] life and a great blessing,” but he added, “As an openly gay man, the Church is not a place where I find solace any longer.” He expressed that staying in the closet for so long affected his mental health.
But the person this news impacted the most was Lois. He is aware of the “excruciating pain” he put his wife through as a result of this shocking revelation. He even apologized to Lois when he announced that the two were no longer together. At least Ed had the support of his daughter. Yes, the young girl he worked so hard to find almost two decades prior.
Elizabeth released a statement reacting to her father coming out. She spoke with only kindness of the man who raised her: “While I am deeply saddened by [my parents’} separation, nothing could change my love and admiration for them both. Their decisions are very personal.”
Elizabeth went on to say that she will not blame either one of her parents for the separation. Instead, she plans to be “focusing on loving and supporting them and the other members of my family.” Elizabeth’s beautiful response was just some of the support Ed got after this revelation.
Personal but Liberating
Ed told NBC News that his “deeply personal but liberating” coming-out came with “amazing love and support from everyone.” Just like his brave daughter, Ed hopes that his experience would also help and inspire others who are in similar situations.
He added, “It was, as I’ve said, incredibly hard getting to this point. And I feel for so many that are struggling in my situation trying to make the decision of whether to come out or remain closeted the rest of their life.” A few months later, he explained how hard it was to keep such a big secret for so long.
There Is No Cure
While speaking to interviewer Gayle King, Ed said: “I was praying that I was not [gay]. I didn’t want to believe that I was. But how do you cure being gay? There is no cure. And for all of those out there that are struggling in the same spot, there is no cure.”
Ed also admitted that he reached out to several leaders of the Mormon Church as he was trying to come to terms with his sexuality. “I literally called my bishop one morning, and I said, ‘You know, I feel like I’ve stabbed Lois in the heart,’” he told King.
No Support From the Church
Ed continued: “And I went to my other church leader, and I said to him, ‘So am I gay? Am I gay?’ And he said to me, ‘I don’t think so.’ He said, ‘You know, there’s this spectrum.’” Yikes! The Church leaders weren’t the only ones who were less than helpful and compassionate when it came to Ed’s inner turmoil.
Ed revealed that he used therapy to explore his feelings. However, in one of those sessions, Ed was told that he wasn’t actually gay. “That was the answer I wanted to hear,” he admitted. “And I bought into that, I went to therapy for four months, and finally I quit going. I just knew that this wasn’t a problem that was going to go away.”
The New Normal
After Ed came to terms with his truth, it was time to tell his family. Elizabeth was his ally and loves her dad no matter what. Ed said that Elizabeth has been a tower of strength since he came out publicly. Ed expressed:
“I was talking to Elizabeth this morning, [and] she was like, ‘We all have to get used to our new normal.’ That was the comment we found as Elizabeth returned. Life could not ever be the same, but there does become a new normal, and we move forward with that.”