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Elizabeth Smart shares inspiring story of courage to local teens

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POSTED: Thursday, June 12, 2014 - 4:00am

UPDATED: Thursday, June 12, 2014 - 5:26pm

Local girls got a great lesson in courage from someone has overcome a terrifying situation.

Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped as a teenager, gave a speech at a leadership camp at Nicholls State University Wednesday night.

Smart was taken from her bedroom in 2002. She was held captive by a man and woman for nine months in the mountains near Salt Lake City before she was rescued. She told her story, including the moment when Brian David Mitchell kidnapped her. At first, she thought she might have been dreaming.

"I heard the voice again, saying, 'I have a knife at your neck. Don't make a sound. Get up, and come with me,'" she recalled. "And as I laid there, I could feel something cold and sharp, lying across my neck. And I could feel someone's hand on my arm, trying to pull me out of bed."

She described being chained inside a tent in the mountains, thinking about her family, knowing their memory was something her captors could not take from her. But she also felt embarrassed.

"I mean, disgusting," she said. "Who could ever want to have anything to do with me ever again? And as I lay there thinking about it, I couldn't help but think of those children who I'd seen on the news (who had been kidnapped and killed), and to think of how lucky they were, that they'd never have to live another moment feeling this pain and this shame." 

Smart was rescued in 2003, after three hikers each called police to report suspicious activity.

The teens, campers in the Louisiana Girls Leadership Academy, were too young to recall when Smart's rescue was the biggest story in the national news.

"I had no idea who she was," admitted Morgan Toups, a student at ED White High School. "It was really inspiring, how she, the first thing she thought of was, 'I'm going to survive this.'"

Smart said the best piece of advice she has received came from her mother shortly after she returned home: "my mom said, 'Elizabeth, what this man has done to you is terrible. And there aren't words strong enough to describe how evil and wicked he is. He's 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. Because by feeling sorry for yourself, you're only allowing him to steal more of your life away from you, and he does not deserve that. He does not deserve a single second more, so you need to be happy and move forward in your life.'" 

She is currently an activist, and speaks all over the country about her kidnapping.

"The people that stand out the most to me, the people that have made the biggest difference to me are the people that don't allow what's happened to them to define them," she stated. "It's the people that made the choice to move forward that I've always been most awed by."

Smart founded a foundation that fights for children's rights and educates about how to prevent abductions.

"I was told, 'look both ways when you cross a street; don't talk to strangers; don't look for lost puppies. Don't do this, don't do that.' But I was never told what I should do if someone ever tried to kidnap me or take me out of my bedroom," she mentioned. "I didn't know that over 80 percent of children who fight back get away. I had no idea of that." 

Smart said moving past the terror of her captivity is a continual process.

"I like to think that, today, I'm better than I was yesterday, and I'd like to think that tomorrow, I'll be better than I am today," she stated. "I think life is a journey, and who fully recovers from life? I mean, I'll keep on going and be happy at where I am." 

Smart was a high-profile supporter of the AMBER Alert system and the Adam Walsh Child Protection & Safety Act. Among her goals are to fight child pornography, and pass laws to allow police departments to collect DNA samples from all suspects.

Smart realizes that, like most of the people she speaks to, the girls at the camp cannot relate to being kidnapped. But she opened her speech by acknowledging that everyone has problems in their lives; some big, some small.

"Well I want these girls to know that despite anything that happens in life, that doesn't mean that their life is over. That they can still move forward, they can still achieve, they can still accomplish and become who they want to be. It's really our choices that make us who we are, and not so much what happens to us."

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