Elizabeth Smart tells Pueblo victim to forge ahead

March 10, 2012
photo - Elizabeth Smart Photo by JERILEE BENNETT, THE GAZETTE
Elizabeth Smart Photo by JERILEE BENNETT, THE GAZETTE 

Child abuse activist Elizabeth Smart told a Colorado Springs news conference that the 9-year-old Pueblo girl who survived a January kidnapping that ended in the Springs “is one in a million.”

The 24-year-old Smart, a survivor of a nine-month kidnapping ordeal when she was 14, spoke at the 17th Annual Gala Fundraiser for Safe Passage Child Advocacy, a nonprofit group that helps child survivors of abuse and kidnapping.

Smart applauded the bravery of the Pueblo girl, who was kidnapped by Jose Garcia on Jan. 20 as she was walking home from school. The girl was taken overnight to Colorado Springs, where she walked into a convenience store and told a clerk to call 911.

“Very few children can act like that,” Smart said.

The girl was reunited with her family, and Garcia was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping, and is being investigated for possible sexual assault. The Gazette does not name alleged child victims of sexual assault.

In 2002, Smart was abducted from her Salt Lake City bedroom and held by her captors, Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Ileen Barzee, for nine months before she was found. At Mitchell and Barzee’s trial, Smart testified that the couple regularly beat and raped her. Smart has since made a career for herself as an activist, and she was hired in 2011 as a correspondent for ABC News.

Smart and her father created the Elizabeth Smart Foundation to focus on the prevention of child abduction and sexual abuse. Smart aims to educate children on survival tactics — she wants elementary schools across the country to teach children how to dial 911, scream for help, and memorize their home addresses. After the family was reunited in 2003, Smart’s own father had her practice screaming for help, she said.

Smart has since become a celebrity, touring the country as a speaker. Despite her success, she said there is “no magic formula” to recovering from the trauma of kidnapping and rape.

Although the Pueblo’s kidnapping survivor was not at the gala, Smart offered her some advice for recovery and forging ahead. Smart recalled her own reunion with her family, and said her mother counseled her not to let the kidnapping overshadow the rest of her life.

The 9-year-old should forget her captor, Smart said.

“Don’t give him any more of your life,” she said.

Contact Ryan Maye Handy: 636-0261
TWITTER @ryanmhandy

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