Elizabeth Smart said confronting her key tormentor, the captor who raped and tortured her for nine months, for a final time in a courtroom helped her break free of his psychological hold and realize “he no longer has any part of my life.”
Smart was only 14 when she was taken by knifepoint from her Salt Lake City bedroom in the middle of the night on June 5, 2002, by Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee. She then spent weeks at a makeshift mountainside campsite where she was chained, raped and threatened with death before she was taken away to California.
Mitchell is now serving a lifetime in prison, and Barzee is serving 15 years to life.
Smart, who confronted both of them in court, said she wasn't sure what to expect when she saw them, especially Mitchell, but knew he would "never control me ever again or make me feel bad ever again, that he no longer exists in my life, and I never have to let him," she told TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie on Monday.
Smart said music played a “huge part” in her recovery. She plays the harp, which she described as “the most relaxing instrument.” Smart also leaned heavily on her family.
“Healing takes a lot of different forms, and it’s different for everybody. There’s not a wrong way, there’s not a right way. And for me, I’ve had a lot of different therapies,” she said.
Smart said her mother advised her that the best punishment she could give her captors was “to be happy” and move forward with her life. “By feeling sorry for yourself and by holding on to what’s happened to you, that’s only allowing him to steal more of your life from you, and he doesn’t deserve another second,” she recalled her mother saying.
Smart described the the night she was kidnapped as the “scariest moment of her life.”
“As far as 14-year-olds go, I probably was on the naïve side," she said. "I mean, I had lived a very sheltered life, so when I woke up in the middle of the night to see a strange man standing above my bed, holding a knife at my neck, I just couldn’t believe it was real.”
Smart said her captors forced to go naked, as well as to drink alcohol to the point where “I’d wake up and my face and my hair was crusted to the ground in vomit.” She also said being raped by Mitchell made her want to die.
“I felt like death would have been better than being raped every single day: That was my perspective as a 14-year-old,” she said. “Now that I’m 25, I can look back and say,'I can overcome that. I can get over that.' But at 14, I couldn’t.”
In an interview with NBC’s Meredith Vieira that aired last Friday, Smart described how she ultimately aided her own rescue by following her captors’ orders and convincing them to travel back to Utah from California so she could be closer to home.
“Things that I'd always told myself I'd never do, I would do them if it meant I would survive. If it meant that one day I would be able to go back home and be with my family again, I would do it,” she said.
Smart wrote about the ordeal in her book, “My Story,” which will be released this week.
Smart told Guthrie that she broke her silence in the book and in her television interviews to help other kidnapping survivors know “they can move forward, that they can be happy, that they can come back and have a wonderful life."