Thursday evening Lafayette was treated to a powerful message delivered by the polite, warm-hearted and quirky Elizabeth Smart as a fundraiser for Hearts of Hope. The 25-year-old survivor of 2002’s Utah kidnapping spoke of hope and overcoming obstacles in life. Smart’s message conveyed that we all go through tough issues in life — not all as traumatic as hers — but we have to learn how to overcome them and move forward with our lives.
Photo by Kari Walker
Elizabeth Smart speaks openly about her experience of being held captive and recovery along with how others can learn from her experience.

Smart spoke of the series of events during her captivity and how she learned to live day by day over the nine months. Ultimately, it was knowing how much her family loved her that gave her the strength to survive.

Once reunited with her family, she faced the process of recovery, but it was what her mother told her that helped her move beyond just surviving, but thriving. “My mom said that my captor had stolen so much from me, but I shouldn’t let him steal another second of my life by holding on to the past,” Smart said in a press conference held before the event.

Through her foundation she is able to help others with victim issues, help children know when the kindness of strangers crosses the line and how to defend themselves. Smart also wants to help law enforcement better understand how to appropriately deal with survivors post-recovery. She was handcuffed and questioned by a male police officer, and this treatment made her uncomfortable after all that had happened in her time of captivity.

Sgt. Kevin Stelly with the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office was present during a related press conference along with some of his detectives to better learn from Smart how the victim-recovery process can improve. By working alongside advocate agencies like Hearts of Hope, law enforcement is able to meet the needs of survivors and their families.

Stelly also spoke about how getting to the recovery process is not just the responsibility of his staff, but of the community. “There is no room for error. The window for rescue opportunity is so small, and we need to make the most of it,” he said. Help from the public has shifted from the days of tip lines and waiting for the 5 o’clock news to social media, which makes it quick for the public to get the word out and go viral online. Such was the case with Mickey Shunick in 2012. “An abduction happens in an instant and can be out of range for local media reach within a few hours. Social media gets the word beyond Lafayette fast,” Stelly said.

Elizabeth Smart closed the evening with a question-and-answer segment. She urged parents to always tell their children how much they are loved and that they are irreplaceable. An audience member asked Smart how she will protect and educate her children when she one day becomes a mother. The soft-spoken, poised young survivor made it very clear that she would urge her child if in the same position to defend life with this closing response: “I’m sorry. I know this is harsh but — and if they had a gun — I’d tell them to shoot them.”

A standing ovation rewarded Smart for her candid statement.

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