By Bob Zientara

Within a few minutes of her arrival at a remote Utah location after being kidnapped in June 2002, Elizabeth Smart was raped.

It was one of the first things she told a crowd estimated at well over 1,000 people on Friday evening, March 15, 2019, at the Barron High School gymnasium.

In a presentation that drew a level of media interest that almost equaled what took place after the abduction of Jayme Closs and the shooting deaths of her parents last October, Smart talked to her audience Friday night about how the community can help Jayme and her extended family move on with their lives.

Smart said she was “an unpopular junior high” student before she was abducted. She talked about how she survived assault, imprisonment, and being chained up over a period of more than eight months, by remembering her mother’s promise of unconditional love.

“’You will always be my daughter, even if death separates us,’” Smart said, quoting something her mother told her before her abduction.

Now a married mother of three, a TV host and a nationally renowned speaker, Smart was freed after police surrounded a vehicle in which she and her captors were riding 13 years ago this month – in March of 2003.

As Jayme Closs and her family seek to re-integrate their lives into the life of the Barron community, Smart had some advice and reminders for her listeners.

• Never ask a question that begins with the words, “why didn’t you …”

Smart said she was too terrified to identify herself after her captors were caught (they had threatened to kill her family if she talked). She only admitted who she was when one person on the scene guided her “a few yards away” from where the arrest took place.

“I felt safe only when I was back in my father’s arms,” she said.

• You can never go back to your old life.

After she returned to her family, Smart was eager to return to her school and her favorite activities. She thought that would help her adjust, but it didn’t.

“The hardest thing for me was that my old world was gone,” she said. In her talk at Barron and on other occasions, Smart has emphasized that she needed to find a new way to lead her life, and adjust to it.

• Give Jayme and her family time and space.

Smart said she was “overwhelmed by the attention” she received when she reappeared in public after her rescue. The additional scrutiny “made it hard for me to fall into a rhythm” with her daily life, she added.

“As Jayme reclaims her life, it’s important to allow her space,” Smart said, urging people to “let her go her own way,” and, if they wish to communicate their thoughts “to write her a letter (so Jayme can) read them on her own time.

“She deserves a chance at life, even though the return will be hard,” she added.

Readers react

The News-Shield invited readers to share their impressions of Smart’s March 15 presentation.

“The words of wisdom she had for our community to help us move on from this were enlightening,” Denise Glaser Romsos said. She appreciated hearing “how we can help (Jayme). She’s right, Jayme is a very strong young lady, and her constant reassuring us that Jayme, along with the support of all, will recover was fulfilling.”

Jennie Nesseth said Smart talked about how “what happened … took those days, … from your life and you can never get them back. But you don’t have to let them keep taking from you.

“The best punishment for your tormentor is for you to let yourself live a happy life,” Nesseth added. “Go do what makes you happy. It’s OK to be happy again.”

Kara Nicole Hoefakker was surprised by the turnout.

Smart’s presentation “was eye opening when she said ‘you can take down your welcome home Jayme signs’… and … let her adjust to her new normal,” Hoefakker added.

Dee Ann Cook noted that Jayme will “never get to go back to her home with her loving parents. Fortunately, she is surrounded by people who love her dearly and will care for her in every way possible. But tears streamed down my face at the thought of what she witnessed and had to endure. As a community, we need to continue to do everything possible to support Jayme and those caring for her.”

Kate’s Bar interviews

A few hours before her Friday night appearance, Smart joined a crew from the California company that produces her Lifetime Channel TV show, “Elizabeth Smart Investigates,” at a taping session at Kate’s Bar & Grill, Barron.

While bar patrons watched the Wisconsin Badgers play Nebraska in the Big Ten Conference basketball tournament, Smart interviewed local residents, former Mayor Bard Kittleson, and News-Shield Publisher Mark Bell, among others.

She asked questions about how the Closs case had affected the Barron community, including the crimes, themselves, the search for Jayme Closs and her captor, and her unexpected escape in January from a summer home in Douglas County.

Between takes, Smart talked about her life as a young mother and wife (her husband is a big soccer follower and a fan of the Manchester United Soccer Club in Scotland).

She said the home routine of childcare and laundry is a larger part of her daily life than her professional duties.

Asked by Mark Bell how someone who doesn’t know Jayme Closs should react if they meet her in public, Smart repeated a theme she emphasized later that evening.

“If you love her and feel compelled to say something to her, write her,” Smart said. “Let her re-establish foundational relationships with the community.”