How Elizabeth Smart Was Instrumental In Her Own Escape

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One of the most harrowing stories of survival of our time has made its way to the small screen. A&E is set to debut part two of Elizabeth Smart: An Autobiography on Monday, Nov. 13 at 9 p.m. ET. As the title may suggest, Smart herself has been heavily involved in the documentary, telling her story in her own words as she recounts her kidnapping from her Salt Lake City home at the age of 14. According to The Guardian, she was held for nine months by her captor, but Smart is alive and well today following her rescue in 2003. So how did Elizabeth Smart escape?

Thanks to a stranger who saw Smart and her captors at a Burger King, CNN reports, police were finally able to locate her after a long, fruitless search. A man named Trevelin Colianni said he saw a teenage Smart wearing a wig, scarf, sunglasses and "a look that I'll never forget," according to CNN. "She was very frightened, very nervous," Colianni said. He called the police after telling his wife that something seemed off, and said he couldn't shake off "the look in that little girl's face." CNN reports that police stopped Smart and her captors as they were leaving a Wal-Mart in Sandy, Utah. Once the police got Smart alone, she removed her disguise and confirmed her identity, leading to her rescue.

Though a stranger helped facilitate, Smart herself was instrumental in her own destiny. She convinced Brian David Mitchell, her kidnapper who was also a religious zealot, that God told her they should leave California. She was being held states away from her home, but managed to convince him to return to Salt Lake City, ABC News reports. This visibility could likely be the reason Smart was noticed in the first place.

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Smart was initially taken at knifepoint from her bedroom in 2002 by Mitchell, who, along with his wife, Wanda Barzee, kept her hostage while abusing and raping her, the Associated Press reports (both are now in prison for the crimes). Smart's since written a bookMy Story — in which she details the ways that she was often denied food and water and treated as a "slave," by Barzee, among other horrors, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Now, 15 years after she was taken, Smart is telling the story for herself yet again, this time in documentary form. She said it's important to her to speak out, however painful the memories might be, if it could possibly help someone else who has gone through similar experiences. "When I came home, I swore myself up and down that I wouldn’t write a book, I wouldn’t do a movie. I wanted it all to disappear, I wanted it all to go away," Smart said at a panel for A&E Networks in Beverly Hills, according to Variety. "For years, I felt that way, but little by little, I started to become more involved in advocacy and meeting more survivors and people who were involved in similar things … it’s kind of my world now, and I realized I have an opportunity."

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Given the unspeakable things that went on over the course of Smart's captivity, she understands that some people in extreme situations may feel as though they can't talk to just anyone about it or feel as though no one truly gets it — and that's understandable — how could anyone possibly imagine such a traumatic experience without having been through it first-hand? But, that's why Smart is speaking out. "I have a unique opportunity to share my story because there are so many survivors out there who struggle every day … they feel like no one understands what they’re going through. … I feel like I need to speak out because I can," Smart said at the panel.

Elizabeth Smart: Autobiography will debut on both Lifetime and A&E, according to Variety, and given that Smart was so heavily involved in the making of the film, audiences can be confident that it'll do justice to her story.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org.