(BARRON, Wis.) — Even within the members of her own Wisconsin community — which searched relentlessly for Jayme Closs for 88 days until the 13-year-old managed to escape her abductor – few if any truly understand the terrifying dimensions of the young teen’s captivity.
But Elizabeth Smart does.
In a raw, remarkable speech she made to the residents of Barron, Wisconsin on Friday night, the now 31-year-old kidnapping survivor opened her heart to share her story of determination in the face of unspeakable abuse and surviving a seemingly hopeless ordeal at such a young age.
“When I was kidnapped, it just brought a whole new meaning to terror, a whole new meaning to what nightmares are made of,” she said. “I was taken away from my family…where my captor told me that I was now going to be his wife, that I was now going to be their slave.”
“That I had to do everything that they told me to do. They told me that my name was no longer Elizabeth, that I could no longer speak about my family, and that if I ever did anything that they did not want me to do, they’d kill me and if they didn’t kill me, they’d…kill my family.”
“That was terrifying,” she added. “That was enough to keep me silent because I could never allow anything to happen to my family.”
Smart was abducted at knife point in 2002 from her Salt Lake City, Utah home and held for nine months before her captors were spotted by two witnesses who recognized the pair from an episode of the television series “America’s Most Wanted.”
She described the searing psychological trauma of realizing that she may never go home again.
She spoke frankly about how she had been raped “within moments” of entering the campsite where her captors lived, and said that after thinking about how drastically her life had changed “in just a matter of hours” she realized that her captors didn’t plan on letting her go.
“This man planned on keeping me,” she said. “Days? Weeks? Months? Years? What if it was so long that I forgot my name? What if it was so long that I forgot who I truly was? That thought terrified me. I never wanted to forgot who I was…where I came from…my family.”
She said that she closely followed the search for Closs and was moved by the community’s unyielding determination to bring Closs home safe.
“I have been so inspired the last few days…and I find it inspiring to see so many of you here tonight in support of Jayme and in moving forward and in reclaiming all of your lives because this has touched so many people,” Smart said.
Smart’s visit to Barron followed just over two months after Closs escaped her captor and fled to safety earlier this year.
Some of Closs’ relatives were expected to attend Friday night’s event at the high school gym in Barron, the town’s county sheriff, Chris Fitzgerald, told ABC News Friday morning.
Smart’s introductory remarks were open to the public, but the press was asked to leave after about five minutes to give Smart the chance to speak privately with community members who are still recovering from the ordeal.
She was expected to share more of her own story and discuss ways the Barron community can move forward, including how to talk to children about such traumatic events and what neighbors should say to Closs and her family, the sheriff said.
“We’re very honored to have her here,” Fitzgerald said.
The rural community of Barron found itself at the center of a kidnapping saga when Jake Patterson, 21, allegedly gunned down Closs’ parents then abducted the 13-year-old from her home on Oct. 15.
Patterson told investigators that, after the killings, he fled with the girl to his house in Gordon, Wisconsin. He allegedly created a space for Closs under his bed, and when he’d leave the house, he’d put barbells and free weights around the bed so she couldn’t escape, according to a criminal complaint.
On Jan. 10, when Patterson left the house, Closs fled, according to court documents.
Patterson was arrested and charged with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide, kidnapping and armed burglary. He is scheduled to be arraigned on March 27.
Following her abduction, Smart went on to become a national child safety advocate and is a married mother of three children.
As for her captors, Barzee was released from prison in 2018 while Mitchell is serving a life sentence.
After Closs’ miraculous escape, Smart wrote, “I hope we may all continue to support and embrace Jayme as she reclaims her life and comes to terms with the reality of her situation. What a brave, strong, and powerful survivor!!!!”
“No matter what may unfold in her story let’s all try to remember that this young woman has SURVIVED and whatever other details may surface the most important will still remain that she is alive,” she wrote. “May god bless you Jayme Closs and may we all continue to search for every missing child.”
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