KILLEEN — Elizabeth Smart, who made headlines 16 years ago when she was abducted from her bedroom in Salt Lake City, Utah, was the keynote speaker Thursday at Baylor Scott and White McLane Children’s Medical Center’s third annual foster care conference in Killeen.
The two-day event — the Texans Fostering Community Enrichment Conference — was held at Texas A&M University-Central Texas and concludes today. About 300 people are attending the conference.
Smart was abducted when she was 14. She was discovered nine months later walking with her abductors, Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Eileen Barzee, down a street in a suburban town approximately 20 miles from her home. Her appearance had been completely obscured with a long, dirty robe and sunglasses, a wig and a veil, and it was only by luck that two people out on that same street that day seemed to notice something was “off” and called police. Soon after, Smart was reunited with her family.
Her case helped put in place the nationwide Amber Alert System, a child abduction alert system.
Since then, Smart has shared her story through television and print interviews, books and advocacy work, and began the Elizabeth Smart Foundation. She also occasionally shares her story through speaking engagements, such as Thursday’s event.
Smart said in a press conference held prior to her speech that what gives her the strength to go on sharing her story is hearing feedback from other survivors.
“I’ve had so many survivors ... tell me that this is the first time they’ve ever shared their story with anyone, and having been a victim of kidnapping and sexual violence and abuse ... I know how terrifying it is to talk about the darkest, worst part of your life ... so when I meet these other survivors, it makes me feel like I’m making a difference, (and) that makes me want to continue to share my story and continue to speak out.”
She also said during the press conference that choosing to speak about her ordeal was never something she felt pressured into doing.
Getting involved in legislation regarding abuse and sexual violence “felt like it naturally flowed” in her direction, Smart said. She credits her father as being her mentor. As for any current legislation she may be working on, she said she’s been researching how to make state reporting guidelines “more streamlined.”
“I feel very honored to be able to speak on this topic because many of the people who are going to be in the audience today become those families for these victims,” Smart said.
During her speech, which was given to an audience comprised of foster parents, social workers, health care workers and law enforcement officials, Smart recounted her ordeal, but stressed that what got her through was her family.
She said she realized her parents would always love her, even if no one else would.
“My family is why I’m able to be an advocate for others. ... Having that support is one of the greatest blessings in life you can have. They are why I am the way I am today,” she said.
Smart concluded her speech by saying, “I want to say thank you to all of you today. It means so much to survivors to have that support (which you provide).”
She then went on to say: “Family does not always mean a blood tie. It’s the people who love you unconditionally, the people who have your back, the people you can trust.”