Kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart visited a Wisconsin high school Friday night to discuss her own abduction with the region that was coping after teenager Jayme Closs was found after a three-month disappearance.
Smart, 31, spoke at Barron High School in Barron, Wis., to a crowd of more than 1,300 people. Smart, who was 14 when she was kidnapped from her Salt Lake City home in 2002, said after she was found that she could not go anywhere without being recognized. She called her abduction “the most terrifying experience of my entire life.”
“I was a very similar age to Jayme when I was kidnapped and it was the most terrifying experience of my entire life,” Smart said.
Smart was discovered nine months later while walking with Wanda Barzee and her husband, Brian Mitchell, in the suburb of Sandy; people had recognized the couple from media reports. The couple was arrested in 2003. Mitchell is serving a life sentence while Barzee was released from Utah State Prison in September.
“I really wondered if people would ever be able to have anything to do with me ever again,” Smart told the crowd. “I really did wonder if I still had value.”
Smart talked about how she found it hard to return to public life following her abduction.
“I want you to understand what it is to be a victim so that as we move on and we talk about moving forward and how you interact and what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate and you understand what it’s like to be in the victim’s shoes,” Smart said.
She told residents to give Closs “space” and to smile instead of staring if they see the teen.
Prosecutors have accused Jake Patterson, 21, of breaking into Closs’ home just outside Barron in October, killing her parents with a shotgun and abducting her. They say he held her in a cabin for three months before the 13-year-old escaped in January.
Smart said she has spoken to Closs and called her “extraordinary” and a “survivor.”
“Despite the horrors that she saw, despite the terrible things that she suffered that are hers and hers alone to share, she still escaped ... she is a survivor,” Smart said.
The Barron County Sheriff’s Department thanked Smart for speaking to the community.
“Again this community showed the world how great we are and that we will come out in force and will do anything for a member and her family in our community,” Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald wrote on Facebook.
Fox News’ Lucia Suarez and the Associated Press contributed to this report.