Elizabeth Smart vividly remembers being awakened in the middle of the night by "feeling something cold and sharp to my neck."
She awoke to a bearded man armed with a knife who was wearing a stocking cap and whom she thought she had never seen before. He told her, "Don't make a sound. Get up out of bed quickly."
Speaking Thursday at the annual Crime Victims Conference at the Capitol, Smart talked for the first time in detail about portions of her nine-month kidnapping in 2002, including an experience in San Diego where she was so weak from starvation that she couldn't move after going a week without food.
Her father, Ed Smart, who sat in the audience listening, said after her speech that it was the first time even he had heard some of the details revealed Thursday.
Elizabeth Smart received a standing ovation as she entered the auditorium. Her message was to let other survivors know that they no longer have to be called "victims," and that once their ordeal is over, they can resume trying to fulfill their dreams.
Just because one bad incident happens in your life, she said, you don't have to live the rest of your life around it. Smart recalled her mother telling her after she returned home, "They took nine months from you. Make sure you don't give any more to them."
Smart told the group of victims' advocates Thursday that life comes in steps and degrees. She said there had been a couple of incidents in her life that made her realize how much she loved her parents and how grateful she was for her family and everything she had.
One of those incidents came during the early morning hours of June 5, 2002, when a man walked into Elizabeth's house and kidnapped her from her bed.
Smart recalled that before she went to bed that night, she was not happy, because her mother was not letting her go on a trip with her friend. She was asked to say the evening prayer that night at the dinner table.
"It was the only time I didn't pray to watch over us in the night," she recalled.
Smart, who was 14, shared a room at that time with her 9-year-old sister, Mary Katherine. She read a book to Mary Katherine after the two had gone to bed, her sister falling asleep before the book was finished.
It would later be Mary Katherine who provided the biggest break in the case by feigning sleep and watching as her older sister was taken. Mary Katherine would remember several months later a mysterious roofer who worked at the Smart house. That roofer was later identified as Brian David Mitchell.
As Elizabeth Smart was being forced to get her shoes from her closet, she recalled she was in a daze and wondered if it was a prank.
"I kept thinking, 'This couldn't be real. This couldn't be happening. I'm in my own bed, I'm safe,' " she said. "I was so confused."
As the man with the knife led her out of the house and up into the foothills behind her backyard, Smart realized, "This is not a prank. This is real."
Thoughts of confusion quickly turned to fear. Smart said she tried talking to the man, asking him several times, "Why are you doing this?"
"He kept pushing me further into the mountains. I kept praying for a chance to escape."
Smart confronted the man, saying, "Do you know what you're doing? Do you know you're going to prison?"
The bearded man replied, "I'm not going to be caught," Smart said.
She recalled trying to bargain with her abductor, telling him she'd speak in his behalf if he let her go. She said she thought she would be raped and killed and her body would be found five years later in a ditch or spread across the mountain.
"If you're going to do it, do it now," Smart said she told her abductor.
He replied, "I have something else in store for you," Smart said.
For the next few days, Smart said she continually cried as she was held hostage on the mountainside. Investigators believe Mitchell and Wanda Barzee held Smart captive in a well-hidden campsite that included a homemade lean-to.
Smart said she kept looking for an opportunity to escape, but it never came. She called that incident a "huge defining moment in my life" of realizing how much she loved her parents.
Another moment came in October 2002 when her captors took Smart to San Diego. Again, they lived in a makeshift campsite in the mountains. Mitchell would often walk into town for drugs or alcohol and sometimes food for everyone, Smart said.
On one trip, however, he was arrested after attempting to break into a church. Mitchell was separated from Barzee and Smart for a week, she said. Smart revealed for the first time publicly Thursday that there was no food or water at the camp during that time. Having no food was common, she said. But this time it was extended.
Smart said she resorted to catching water from a rainstorm in a tarp and drinking it.
"I couldn't even stand up I was so hungry. I couldn't even move," she said.
That experience, Smart said, made her grateful for the things she had at home.
Last year, Smart participated in the preparation of a pamphlet released by the U.S. Justice Department entitled, "You Are Not Alone, The Journey From Abduction to Empowerment." The 63-page book tells of several kidnapping cases, with the survivors saying what they want to in their own words.
The pamphlet has been called a survivor's guide for kidnap victims. Smart hopes it will help others realize they don't have to be victims forever.
"Miracles happen. You can be happy and have a wonderful and beautiful life," was her message to survivors.71 comments on this story
Also Thursday, attorneys for Mitchell, the man indicted by a federal grand jury in connection with Smart's kidnapping, were back in court. Mitchell, whose court appearances have become known for his yelling and singing outbursts and quick removal from the courtroom, was allowed to miss the hearing.
Mitchell is expected to have another competency hearing scheduled, his first in the federal system, later this year. The government's expert witness, Dr. Michael Welner, needs about six more weeks to complete his report on Mitchell, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. He did meet with Mitchell last week, but details of that meeting were not revealed Thursday.
Another status hearing was scheduled for June 18.