Elizabeth Smart was in good spirits while speaking at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania, mere hours after one of her kidnappers was released from prison. Wanda Barzee walked free on Wednesday, Sept. 19 after more than 15 years behind bars. Still, Smart was able to crack a few jokes.
“I don’t understand why we teach don’t take candy from people you don’t know, but then we have a whole holiday celebrating taking candy from people you don’t know,” she said as the room erupted with laughter. “And then all of a sudden, this man’s in my room with a knife at my neck telling me to get up and go with him.”
Elizabeth Smart talks about what it is like to overcome trauma and find strength to move on. pic.twitter.com/nhuvIgIQun
— Lock Haven Univ. (@LockHavenUniv) September 19, 2018
The now 30-year-old was just 14 when she was taken from her Salt Lake City home and held captive by Brian Mitchell and his wife for nine months. In July, the Utah Board of Pardons denied Barzee an early release, but last Tuesday, they made a surprising reversal decision. “Upon further review and advice from legal counsel, the board must count time spent in federal custody toward Ms. Barzee’s state sentence,” Greg Johnson, the director of administrative services, said at the time.
Since then, Smart released a statement to the public: “Without doubt the past few weeks have been a rollercoaster of emotion, and I would like to take the opportunity to thank everyone for their kind words, support, and concern. It has meant so much to me,” she wrote on Instagram on Sept. 19.
“May we all remain vigilant in watching over our families, friends, and community from anyone who would seek to hurt or take advantage. I truly believe life is meant to be happy and beautiful, and no matter what happens that will remain my goal for me and for my family.”
Smart and her father, Ed, previously said news of her release came as a “surprise” because “we were told she was getting out in 2022.”
When a member of the audience asked how she felt about everything, despite pleas to keep her captor behind bars, she bravely said: “I’m not going to let these people, this woman, stop me from living the life that I want to live and that’s how I still I feel.”