SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – Elizabeth Smart, whose abduction from her bedroom and reunion with her family nine months later made her name and face familiar to millions, said in her first public interview that she hasn’t changed that much from the girl she was before.
“I think there’s some things different about me, but I think I’m still pretty much the same person,” the 15-year-old told NBC’s Katie Couric in an interview aired Friday.
“It’s not like I was, like, all happy and all of a sudden I come back and I’m not, because I’m still happy,” she said. “It’s the same. It’s like it never happened.”
Elizabeth was 14 when someone slashed the screen on an open kitchen window in the Smart family home early on June 5, 2002, and abducted her at knifepoint from the bedroom she shared with her younger sister, Mary Katherine, the only witness.
For nine months, her family kept her face and story before the public, not knowing if she was alive but not willing to give up.
On March 12, the publicity paid off. Residents in the Salt Lake City suburb of Sandy spotted the man Mary Katherine identified as Elizabeth’s abductor, a drifter and self-styled prophet named Brian David Mitchell who had done work on the Smart family home. Police found him walking with two people in white robes. One was Elizabeth.
Prosecutors say Mitchell, 50, and his wife, Wanda Barzee, 57, had kidnapped Elizabeth to be Mitchell’s second “wife” and held her against her will at a crude campsite in the foothills above the Smart home until Oct. 8. They then took her to California, where they stayed until March 5, according to court documents.
Both are now charged with kidnapping, burglary and sexual assault. They are being held on $10 million bond pending psychological examinations to determine whether they are competent to stand trial.
In the NBC interview from the Smart family’s ranch, her parents, Ed and Lois Smart, said Elizabeth was strong and even insisted on taking them to the campsite and showing them how she had lived. Her mother described her daughter as she marched up the hill as “triumphant.”
Elizabeth had tried to escape from her abductors but she had been tethered, and they had threatened to kill her family if she cried out for help, her parents said. They said the abductors tried to strip Elizabeth of her identity.
Now, seven months after her return, her parents said Elizabeth has been getting help for coping with her ordeal and is doing well.
She is back at Salt Lake City’s East High School, where she admits “weirdoes” at school taunt her as she walks down the hall. But her friends have welcomed her, treating her normally, she said. They still don’t ask questions.
“They say, ‘It’s like you came back from a huge, long vacation,”’ she said.
When asked if life is back to normal, she said, “Yeah.”
Elizabeth said that if anything has changed, it’s that she has more compassion for the homeless after experiencing how they live.
That compassion doesn’t extend to her captors. “They didn’t have to be” homeless, she said. “They had plenty of opportunity to do what they wanted, but they’re such idiots.”
The NBC interview was the first of a media blitz to coincide with the Monday release of her parents’ book, “Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope.”