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Elizabeth Smart: 'I couldn't be happier'

9:20 PM, Oct 8, 2013   |    comments
Author and kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart signs copies of her book 'My Story' at Barnes & Noble, 86th & Lexington on October 8, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/Getty Images)
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Life is good for Elizabeth Smart a decade after surviving a hellish kidnapping, she told CNN's Anderson Cooper.

Smart got married last year and her book "My Story" is expected to be a best-seller.

"It couldn't get better than that, right? I've got great dogs. I've got a great family. I mean, I couldn't be happier," Smart said in the second installment of her interview, which aired Tuesday on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360."

The first installment shown Monday detailed the night of June 5, 2002, when Brian David Mitchell dragged her from her family's Salt Lake City home with a knife to her throat, threatening to kill her and her family if she made a noise.

Smart, now 25, is a long way from the scared 14-year-old who spent nine months as a captive of a homeless street preacher, who raped her daily, and his wife, Wanda Barzee, who treated her like a slave.

"That happened to me, but I'm so much more than that girl that was kidnapped," Smart told Cooper.

When Smart testified at Mitchell's federal trial three years ago, it was to help prosecutors convict her kidnapper. But her book is intended to raise awareness of sexual abuse and to help other victims, she said.

Paralyzed by fear

She had chances to be rescued, but the fear that Mitchell might carry out his threats to kill her and her family paralyzed her, she said. One missed opportunity came when someone told police they saw the missing girl at a Salt Lake City library.

When homicide detective Jon Richey approached to investigate, Smart was sitting next to Barzee. "As soon as the policeman flashed his badge, because he was just dressed as a civilian, she immediately clamped her hand down onto my leg, and in my 14-year-old mind, I just knew that if I did anything or said anything that I would be killed and then they'd go after my family," Smart said. "So, I sat there just praying and hoping and just desperate that he'd recognize me, that somehow he'd save me."

Mitchell refused to let the detective see under the veil that shielded Smart's face, saying it violated their religious beliefs for anyone but the young woman's husband to see her face.

"When he turned around and walked away, being 100% convinced that it wasn't me, I mean, it felt like I was being kidnapped all over again," Smart said. "I mean, it felt like I was being stolen from my family again and being ripped away from my life and my happiness."

Manipulating her kidnappers

Mitchell and Barzee took Smart to San Diego soon after that encounter, but they were also talking about heading to New York or Boston, she said.

"We have to get back to Salt Lake," she told Cooper she was thinking. "There's no way anyone was going to find me if I don't. But there's every reason for them not to want to go back to Salt Lake, every reason in the world for that to be the last place for them to ever go."

She used her own psychological trick to persuade Mitchell, who was so good at manipulating others, to return to Salt Lake City, she said.

"I remember turning around and facing my captors and just telling them, 'I just have this feeling and I know that God would never speak to me, but I know he'll speak to you because you're his servant. You're practically his best friend. 

Could you please ask him if we're supposed to go back to Salt Lake, because this feeling, it just won't leave me and, this is just crazy coming from me, but if you ask him I know he'll tell you.' And so he did end up asking. And that was how it was decided we'd go back to Salt Lake."

Her rescue

Soon after their return -- on March 12, 2003 -- police officers confronted them outside a Walmart store in Sandy, Utah.
"I remembered all these cars pulled up and then the policemen jumped out of their cars and they came over and surrounded us and started asking questions," Smart said. "And my two captors, they kept giving the answers and the officers started to ask me questions."

She had been prepared by Mitchell with a back story in such cases, she said. 

"I started giving those answers, because they were standing right next to me. I was scared. I was petrified."

But her courage grew when the police separated her from Mitchell and Barzee. 

"At first, I was still really scared," she said. "I kept giving the answers that I had been told to give, and then finally one of the officers said, 'Well, if you're Elizabeth Smart, your family misses you so much and they love you so much and they have never given up hope on you the entire nine months you're gone. Don't you want to go back home to your family?' And it was just at that point that I felt like, well, no matter what the consequences are, I don't care, I want to go home."

"So what did you say?" Cooper asked.

"I told them that I was Elizabeth Smart," she said.

"What was that feeling like to say your name? You probably hadn't said your name for a long time," Cooper said.

"It was scary because I didn't know if they thought I had done something wrong or if they had thought I had run away," she said. "I didn't know what they were thinking."

One lesson to be learned from her story is that public speculation -- the armchair quarterbacking by people who do not know the facts -- can be hurtful to a victim.

"To have so many people speculate on what happened and what I must be going through, and just so many lies being told," she said. "It was hard. I didn't like it. I don't think anybody likes having people guess at what they're going through. Privacy is so sacred and any time a victim is returned, a survivor is found and rescued, privacy is one of the greatest gifts we can give them because if they decide to share, that's up to them and they will come forward."

CNN

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