These are the
words that will give fresh heart to Kate and Gerry McCann
this week: "Don't give up... because
Elizabeth Smart (Pic:SM)
It's a simple
enough message, but what's important is that it comes from
the one person who is living proof that there will always be
hope for missing Madeleine.
As the McCanns
wait to hear if Portuguese police have abandoned the search
for their daughter, a pretty young woman called Elizabeth
Smart has broken a long silence to talk about her own
reveals how she too was kidnapped in the night and was
missing for months on end. She tells how her parents came
under suspicion, just as Gerry and Kate McCann have.
Her case bears
striking similarities to the baffling disappearance of
little Maddie... but with a final instalment. It ended
happily. Elizabeth came home.
"I feel so
lucky to be here, to have come through this unscarred," she
says. "While I was gone I didn't know if I would ever be
found, but I had hopes and dreams that I would.
They tell me I
am an icon of hope. I just wish everyone could be as lucky
as I was.
a beautiful little girl and I can only imagine how her
parents must feel, to see the case closing on their daughter
- I feel so heartbroken for them.
"But look at
me... I'm proof that good things do happen in this world."
Six years ago
when she was 14, Elizabeth went to sleep in the bedroom she
shared with her 10-year-old sister Mary Catherine - and the
next morning she was gone. There was no evidence left behind
and searches of the countryside around the family's home in
Salt Lake City, Utah, produced not a single clue.
For a while
her own parents Ed and Lois were suspects, like Gerry and
Kate. And just like the McCanns, they carried on defiantly,
campaigning to keep her face and name in the media.
Elizabeth dominated the American TV networks as speculation
raged - where had she been taken, how had anyone managed to
spirit her away, was she alive or dead?
the police declared they were winding down their
after nine agonising months, as suddenly as she had vanished
Elizabeth was found again.
spotted on the street with her kidnapper, 54-year-old Brian
David Mitchell, a drifter and a religious fanatic, who had
done odd jobs at the Smarts' home.
that gripped the country was solved at last, and, little by
little, details emerged of her terrible ordeal.
Mitchell - who
called himself the Prophet Immanuel - and his wife Wanda
Barzee, 53, had kept Elizabeth chained to a tree in a camp
in the woods, where they starved and abused her.
was held captive just three miles from home - but the
massive search of the locality in the first days of her
abduction still failed to find her. Months later her captors
took Elizabeth to spend the winter in California, living in
an abandoned trailer. They moved back to Utah in the spring.
"In those nine
months they threatened to kill me, and my family too if I
managed to escape," says Elizabeth.
several times when I tried, but I couldn't cut through my
"All I had to
use was a vegetable knife. I was scared that I might stay a
prisoner there for the rest of my life. I went into survival
mode and did whatever was needed to stay alive.
myself that no matter what they did or how they tried to
change me, I would always be Ed and Lois Smart's daughter.
My parents would always love me - I knew that, no matter
Elizabeth was kidnapped, Mitchell had crept into the house
and seized her at knifepoint. He must have partly disturbed
her sister because months later Mary Catherine seeing
flashbacks of him taking Elizabeth away.
forced her to walk through the woods in her pyjamas to a
makeshift campsite, where there was no plumbing and little
wasn't tethered to the tree, the couple hid her in a hole in
the ground, covered with wooden boards.
"I had no idea
what was going to happen to me each day," she says. "It
really depended on how Mitchell was feeling, what thought or
theme was in his head.
strike me or hit me, but there was always the threat that I
would be killed. Every time I did something wrong, he would
make my life that little bit harder.
"I was given
mostly bread to eat, with the occasional piece of fruit. In
all those nine months I wasn't allowed to take a bath. They
dressed me in a white robe and a white headscarf, with a
cloth across my face. Often they wore robes as well - that
was all part of their so-called religion.
heard police helicopters overhead, and people who were
searching for me calling my name, but I was too terrified to
As Ed and
Lois, both devoted church goers, vowed they would never
abandon the search for their daughter, she was enduring a
daily struggle to survive.
It was only
when months later Mary Catherine started having vivid
flashbacks of the kidnap that a new wave of publicity was
started. Pictures of the missing girl and photofits of
"Immanuel" began appearing in the newspapers.
several reports came in that a couple with a girl had been
seen on a street in Sandy, 18 miles from Salt Lake City. The
girl was wearing a red wig over her tightlybraided blonde
hair, and she said her name was Augustine.
When a police
officer approached and asked her, "Are you Elizabeth
Smart?", she denied it.
followed her and asked again, and she replied in the
Biblical style of language that her captors had been
teaching her. "If thou sayeth," she nodded.
safe, and soon in the arms of her overjoyed family.
later she took them to see the remote place where she had
been a prisoner.
triumphant - it wasn't a secret any more," she says. "When I
was held against my will, nobody in the world knew I was
there. Now nobody could make me hide.
"I'm not sorry
any more that this happened to me, because it was an
experience that made me grow up."
Elizabeth is at university studying music. When she's home
on holiday, she still sleeps in the same bed where her
She helps to
counsel other families of missing children - the same work
that her parents took on full-time through a specialist
centre in Washington. Her dad Ed, 53, met the McCanns when
they visited the States last summer and they regularly keep
abducted at the age of three from her bed in a holiday
apartment in Portugal last May where she was left sleeping
with her younger brother and sister while Gerry, 39, and
Kate, 40, went to a nearby restaurant.
search has failed to find her, and Portuguese police are
reported to be about to wind up the case.
Ed says he
really sympathised with the McCanns when they too were
suspected of their child's abduction.
At one stage
in the search for Elizabeth, police insisted he take a lie
He says: "I
was talking with Kate at dinner one night and she asked me
how I kept up hope while Elizabeth was away. I told her I
always believed my child was out there. One day she would
walk back into our lives. I never gave up thinking that.
the same way about Madeleine, and I told her to hold on to
that hope - it's the only way."
He has also
been able to advise the couple about the strain put on their
have become victims on their own," Ed says. "They are
keeping strong, but when you are under this kind of stress
it certainly brings out your differences.
"But they are
sticking together and keeping a routine for the sake of
their other children, just as we did.
"I know they
won't stop until they find their little girl."
Elizabeth's return, Mitchell and Barzee were charged with
kidnap and sexual assault. But they have yet to stand trial
as the legal arguments continue over whether or not they are
"I'd like a
conclusion, but on the other hand if they stay in hospital
for the rest of their lives then they can't get to me or
anyone else," Elizabeth says. "I do believe that if they
were free they would come after me again.
"But I never
dwell on the past. They have taken too much of my life
already. From the day I came home, I haven't wasted time
I thought I'd
be a prisoner for ever.. they said I'd die if I escaped
I clung on to
the fact that my parents loved me.. no matter what