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Elizabeth Smart on missing women of color: 'They're somebody'

"Someone is missing. Like, are they any less worthy?" Smart asked.
/ Source: TODAY

As someone who was kidnapped and had their face on television, printed in newspapers and in magazines, Elizabeth Smart has a unique perspective about what it is like to be a missing person in the United States.

Smart, 33, appeared on a recent episode of "Red Table Talk" on Facebook Watch, where she talked about her heartbreak over the Gabby Petito murder and how she wishes every missing person was given equal attention and media coverage.

"In Gabby's case in particular, I mean, I was alive and I came home, and hers tragically has not ended that way. But knowing what it's like being on the other side and potentially what may have happened and what may have led up to her final moments and understanding probably a lot of what she was feeling, it's heartbreaking," Smart said.

Petito, a 22-year-old video blogger, was reported missing on Sept. 11 after her boyfriend returned from a road trip without her. Her body was discovered more than a week later. A coroner's report ruled her death was a homicide by strangulation and likely happened three to four weeks before her body was found on Sept. 19.

Smart, who is now a mother of three, also talked about the toll her kidnapping had on her parents. While her story had a happy ending, she said she can't imagine what it's like for the family of missing people who aren't receiving the same level of attention.

“My parents always said the worst part of having me gone was not knowing...when I was being taken up into the mountains that first night that I was kidnapped, I asked him if he was gonna rape and kill me and if he was going to do that, could he please do it fairly close to my house because it was important to me that my parents find my body and know that I hadn't run away," she said. "And so, I mean, when I think of Gabby Petito, when I think of all of these other victims, I feel like they still deserve just every bit as much to be found so that their stories have an ending as well."

Smart also sounded off on how cases of missing white women tend to get more attention than other missing people, whose names and faces often don't make it into the media.

“When I think of all of the people... I mean, so many, so many whose stories never even see the light of day. I live in this field every day, and all the time I hear stories I've never heard, and they're not just, like, brand-new stories of ten minutes ago. They're stories of 5, 10, 20 years ago, and I've never heard of them," Smart said. "Someone is missing. Like, are they any less worthy? Has any less of a hole been left because they're gone? No. Like, they're somebody."

Smart's story is well-known, but she's now starting to navigate when and how to share what happened to her with her children. She said when one of her captors was coming up for parole, her 6-year-old daughter kept asking where she was going. Smart said she decided to follow advice she received to start sharing when her kids asked questions.

"That moment, I was just like, ‘Dang it, guess I have to take this advice now. Like, she's asking questions.’ So I started talking to her, but it's not in graphic detail," she explained.

"‘When Mommy was younger, there was a man who broke into my home and hurt me, and now he and his wife are in jail, and I'm going down there to make sure that they stay in jail,'" she said she told her daughter. "So that led to us talking about having the right to defend yourself.”