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Elizabeth Smart talks healing at Wisconsin town hall


Authorities in Wisconsin released audio of the 911 call placed moments after 13-year-old Jayme Closs was found and brought to a neighbor’s home in rural Gordon. (Jan. 15)

BARRON, Wisc. – When Elizabeth Smart came home after nine months in captivity, she struggled with the notoriety that accompanied her abduction. 

She couldn’t go anywhere without being recognized. Trips to the grocery store took longer. She was no longer a wallflower. 

Her return was the beginning of a new journey, she told Barron County, Wisconsin, residents Friday. 

“In my mind, I thought that I could just go back to who I was before I was kidnapped,” she said. “At that point in time, I didn’t realize that actually, that girl, Elizabeth Smart, who existed before I was kidnapped, didn’t exist anymore.” 

Smart spoke at Barron High School to help the community move forward after the return of 13-year-old Jayme Closs, whose escape from the home of Jake Patterson two months ago drew national headlines.

Patterson, 21, is charged with gunning down Jayme’s parents on Oct. 15, kidnapping the teen and holding her for 88 days in the Douglas County town of Gordon. 

Patterson, who is due back in court for an arraignment on March 27, faces charges of first-degree intentional homicide, kidnapping and armed burglary.

More: Jayme Closs’ alleged kidnapper writes he’ll plead guilty, said motive is ‘complicated’

Smart also gained nationwide attention after she was kidnapped in 2002 from her Salt Lake City bedroom by street preacher Brian David Mitchell and held for nine months with the help of Mitchell’s wife, Wanda Barzee. Mitchell raped her daily and used religion to justify his actions.

Smart is now a child safety advocate and on Friday encouraged Barron residents to respect Jayme’s privacy as she begins to heal and reclaim her life. She suggested those who want to talk to her write a letter that she can read when she’s ready.

Opinion: Jayme Closs captured the nation’s attention. Why don’t these other missing kids?

Smart also emphasized that one should never ask a victim a question that starts with, “Why didn’t you?”  

“Whatever they have done, they did the right thing, because they survived,” she said. 

The high school gym was packed with people who wanted to hear from Smart, who spoke for about 30 minutes. Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald called it a tremendous night.

“It was a very powerful message,” said Mary Krovoza, of Rice Lake. “It was probably what the community needed.” 

Now that Jayme is home, Smart said, it’s OK for the community to keep living. The family will need time to mourn Jayme’s parents, James and Denise, but things will get better, she said.  

Smart also called Jayme an extraordinary young woman who will find her way forward.

“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. 


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