Right after the attack happened, Mills said she was afraid. But she mostly held her composure.
"I think I was just in shock then. I know I was afraid to take a shower even with my parents in the house because I didn't know if he was going to come back. I didn't know if he was watching me."
But as word spread through the school about what had happened, she started being harassed by some of the students. Mills transfered to Olympus High School and finished school a year early.
By the time she was 25, Mills could no longer handle what had been destroying her..
"I stayed strong for awhile. … But eventually, it caught up to me. I really didn't deal with it when I was younger. I got into drugs when I was probably 24-25, got into drugs really bad. It was the only thing that made me not think about it," she said.
There was a two-year period where Liston said she didn't even know where her daughter was.
"I didn't know if she was alive or dead somewhere. You can't imagine what that's like. Everytime the phone rings, you think it's going to be something horrible."
In Mills' own words: "It was as heavy a drug addiction as you can find."
One night in 2009, Liston got the call that she had feared. Her daughter was in the hospital and she needed to come quickly if she wanted to see her while she was still alive.
When Liston arrived, she didn't recognize her daughter who was 80 pounds and had intestinal failure because of her drug use. Her body had shut down. But doctors were able to save her. The near-death experience, she said, was actually a blessing because she started getting the help she needed. Mills, now 31, has been sober for two years and four months. She still goes to rehab to maintain her sobriety.
Both Mills and Liston have struggled over what they will say during Higgins' parole hearing Tuesday. Mills said she has been working on just the opening line of her speech for weeks.
"Where do you start when you tell this horrible person how much he's stolen, so much of my life, it's just too hard to put into words," she said.
"I'm hoping that (Tuesday) will be a way to say, 'OK, you stole 15 years of my life, but you're not going to control my life another minute.' … I want to look him in the eyes and let him know, 'You can't take any more power from me.'"
Mills said she wishes she had the strength of Utah's most famous survivor.
"I wish I could be as strong as Elizabeth Smart. I really do admire her. So hopefully I can be like her."
Likewise, her mother said she has gone through several versions of a speech ranging from an angry tone to a more subdued one. She tore up her first attempt at writing a speech, deciding, "I don't want to be that angry."
But the mother and daughter have a message for the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole:
"I got a life sentence. So did my mom, so did my family, so did all the other girls," Mills said.
Deseret News editorial: Elizabeth Smart's case finds closure at last
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