This summer marked the 10th anniversary of the high-profile Elizabeth Smart abduction — a months-long ordeal during which a pair of deranged religious zealots held the Utah girl captive in a make-shift camp just miles from her Salt Lake City home.
In an amazing testament to her inner strength, Smart has spent a better part of the last decade sharing her story and advocating for victims of abuse through the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, a national organization she chairs with her father to help prevent abductions.
"I remembered some one once telling me that the first thing you forgot about a person is their voice," Smart explained. "I knew the one voice I didn't want to forget was my mom's."
At the Houston Junior League during a Thursday morning event hosted by area nonprofit ChildBuilders, the 24-year-old activist boldly detailed that nightmare evening in June 2002, when a man calling himself Emmanuel kidnapped her from her bed at knifepoint.
Punctuating the painful narrative with vivid and often happy memories from her childhood, Smart shed light on the manner in which she kept herself stable during her nine months with Emmanuel (a former Mormon street preacher named Brian David Mitchell) and his wife Wanda Barzee.
She told the audience about the thoughts that ran through her head as she sat tied to a mountain tree after being forcibly married to her captor. (Smart would be raped and threatened with death throughout her ordeal, which she described as "nine months of hell" in court).
"From the moment that knife touched my neck to the moment I was sitting there, I wondered how my life could have been any different than it was at time," she said. "But then I remembered someone once telling me that the first thing you forgot about a person is their voice.
"I started thinking about all the people whose voices I didn't want to forget. My family was right at the top and of all of them, I knew the one voice I didn't want to forget was my mom's. Every morning at the top of her voice, she'd sing "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" to wake up all my siblings and myself. We weren't always appreciative of that, but I remembered how special that was to me."
After the talk, which included a Q&A session with KPRC Ch. 2's Courtney Zavala, Smart joined members of the press to discuss her transformation from a victim to an advocate.
"I feel like it would selfish not to give back after so much was done for me," Smart said. "I want to change things so what happened to me won't happen to them."
"I feel like it would selfish not to give back after so much was done for me," she explained. "Knowing what can happen and what does happen, I want to change things so what happened to me won't happen to them."
Having just recently left ABC News and Good Morning America as a correspondent, Smart said that she's currently in the process of writing a full account of her abduction story and plans to concentrate on child advocacy, something she feels has become her "life's work."
"I feel like life events are always tied to things that have happened to you earlier," she said in closing. "I believe it's all connected."