One week after kidnapped teenager Elizabeth Smart returned home, her parents Ed and Lois Smart looked back on their daughter's nine-month abduction and miraculous recovery as a testament of faith and hope.
Through their ordeal, the gospel and family sustained them. The temple, priesthood blessings and the scriptures brought them peace. The charity and prayers of others helped them endure.
Now, they say, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will help them move past this tragedy and be stronger for it.
"We are so thankful to our Heavenly Father for the abundance of blessings that were poured down on us and continue to be," said Lois Smart in a Church News interview. "Our love is stronger, our faith is deeper. We have great hope."
Sister Smart said her family — including now 10-year-old Mary Katherine who witnessed the abduction — will forever celebrate March 12, the day Elizabeth came home, as "Elizabeth's day."
The teen was recovered by police while walking with her alleged abductors in Sandy, Utah.
Last fall, Mary Katherine told her parents that the abductor could have been a homeless man, who worked only a few hours at the Smart's home. The Smarts released a composite sketch of the man in February and local citizens called police when they spotted him.
That man, Brian David Mitchell, along with Wanda Eileen Barzee, was arraigned March 19 on charges of aggravated kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault and aggravated burglary in connection with Elizabeth's abduction.
The then-14-year-old was taken at knife point from her bedroom June 5, 2002 — spurring an outpouring of international attention. The Smarts don't know why their daughter stuck out in the sea of kidnap victims. In the days, weeks and months following Elizabeth's kidnapping, thousands volunteered time, money and prayers to aid in Elizabeth's recovery. The kidnapping generated countless newspaper headlines and talk on national television shows; the world took an interest in Elizabeth. "Missing" posters prominently displayed Elizabeth's photograph in stores and public gathering places seemingly everywhere.
Today, blue balloons and ribbons, which became a symbol of the hope for the missing teen, are seen throughout the Smart's neighborhood and in other neighborhoods across Utah's Wasatch Front. Freeway billboards, which only a week ago read "Kidnapped," now display another message: "Miracles do happen."
The Smarts call Elizabeth's miraculous homecoming the culmination of many, many smaller miracles: the thousands of volunteers searching for their daughter, the death of Lois' father and "Elizabeth's guardian angel" only days before the kidnapping, Mary Katherine's "inspiration to identify the suspect," and the family's ability to get through each day during their long ordeal.
"It was unbearable for us to think about what she might be going through," said Brother Smart. "It was unbearable."
"I believe it was a miracle that we made it," added Sister Smart.
The Smarts credit priesthood blessings and prayer for helping them through. "We could feel our Heavenly Father's love," said Sister Smart. "The Holy Ghost was by our side and we knew it and we could feel it. There definitely was a void in our life, but it made life bearable."
Elizabeth could also feel the Savior's love, said Sister Smart.
"She is a strong girl, as we all know. She has a deep faith in God and her testimony is strong. . . . She is going to make it. There is no doubt in my mind."
The Smarts — who were both raised in the Church and who married in the temple — said that through their ordeal, they didn't ever question their faith, but instead leaned on it.
"We knew that whether or not we saw her again in this life, that we would see her again," Sister Smart said. "The fact that we are her parents, that could never be changed or taken from us."
Brother Smart said the family also knew this whole incident was due to the misuse of someone's moral agency. Still, he added, he and his wife can't fathom why Elizabeth's abductors could make such a devastating choice.
The Smarts say they can't stand to even think about the abductors, their motives or their crimes. But, Sister Smart said, her family won't be eaten up by vengeance.
"I truly believe that if we dwell on that I can't be the kind of mother I need to be to help Elizabeth or my other children," she said. "I know there is a just God in Heaven. It is not worth my time or effort to give [Elizabeth's kidnapper] anymore of my life. He has already taken nine months. His just reward will come."
The Smarts say they know life at their home will never be the same. Brother Smart adds, however, that having Elizabeth back makes each day better than the last.
Today they are grateful for so many things:
Family: Brother Smart's parents and five siblings attacked the case with the tenacity of "bulldogs"; Sister Smart's mother and eight siblings offered invaluable help and support behind the scenes.
Prayer: Through prayer the Smarts felt closer to each other and the Lord than at any other time before.
Hope: An unwavering belief in Jesus Christ energized their spirits. They knew someday they would have the answers they so desperately sought.
Miracles: They testify that, small or large, miracles do exist. Nothing short of a miracle could have brought Elizabeth home.
Sister Smart said in the days since her recovery, Elizabeth has been doing all the things a teenage girl ought to be doing — taking bubble baths, talking with friends and anticipating getting her driver's licence. She is reading hundreds of thousands of letters from well-wishers who now claim Elizabeth as part of their own family.
In Salt Lake City, people who have never met the teen continue to celebrate; they cry over the thoughts of Elizabeth's ordeal and offer prayers of thanks that it is over.
At a gathering March 14 in Liberty Park, the same location candlelight vigils had been held only nine months earlier, thousands congregated to share in the Smarts' miracle.
Brother Smart offered a prayer. Community members sang. Elizabeth sent a handwritten message, which bore her signature:
"I'm the luckiest girl in the world!" she wrote. "Thank you for your love and prayers. It's a wish come true. I'm home."