DALLAS — Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped in 2002 and missing for nine months, was in Dallas on Monday to tell law enforcement workers about her "sojourn into hell" and urge investigators to never give up on finding a missing child.
"We can never do enough when it comes to bringing a child home," said Smart, now 23. "Never doubt your efforts or give up on that child because that one child you save could have been me."
She was the keynote speaker at the Crimes Against Children Conference. About 3,000 police officers, physicians, attorneys and social workers from all 50 states and many other countries are attending the four-day event, which is not open to the public.
The conference, in its 23rd year, is the largest of its kind that trains officials to recognize and investigate child abuse. The Dallas Children's Advocacy Center and the Dallas Police Department are hosting the event.
Smart was abducted from her Salt Lake City home — with a knife held to her neck — in June 2002 when she was 14. She was rescued after someone spotted her with abductors Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Eileen Barzee, in Sandy, Utah, in March 2003.
Smart testified against the abductors last fall. Mitchell, a street preacher who Smart's family had hired to fix their leaky roof, was sentenced to life in prison in May. Barzee received a 15-year sentence.
In July, the Brigham Young University student became an ABC News contributor to comment on missing child cases. Smart also recently created the Elizabeth Smart Foundation to help protect children.
Smart's father, Ed Smart, also will speak at a workshop titled "Working with Crime Victims and their Families." Joining him will be Patty Wetterling, whose son, Jacob, was abducted by a masked gunman in Minnesota in 1989 when the boy was 11. He is still missing.
The conference also features the prosecutor in the Jaycee Lee Dugard case, Vern Pierson. He will be a presenter at a case study on Phillip Garrido, the man who kidnapped, sexually assaulted and imprisoned 11-year-old Jaycee for 18 years.
Cases like Smart's lift the morale of law enforcement workers who often do not get to see such positive outcomes, said Lynn Davis, president and chief executive of the Dallas advocacy center.
The center's staff conducts and records interviews with victims of the most severe cases of child abuse so that they do not have to suffer the trauma of being interviewed repeatedly during an investigation. Davis said Smart's appearance will help attendees see how much their work matters.
"With somebody who was abducted and severely abused for nine months, there's a lot of hope in that the man and his wife were just sentenced to very long terms," he said. "So many times, kids are abused and the bad guys never go to jail."
Lt. Sally Lannom with the Dallas Police Department's child abuse unit said that Smart has shown a lot of courage in telling her story.
"The fact that this is someone who lived to tell about it helps so we can see there is hope," she said.
Smart's appearance also helps other victims see that they can move forward with their lives, Davis said.
"So many people ask us once a child is abused, aren't they a victim for the rest of their lives? We say no," he said. "For someone like Elizabeth Smart to come and talk about the hope and the healing is a wonderful thing for the conference and the whole field."
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company