The life Elizabeth Smart envisioned as a 14-year-old girl changed in June 2002 when a strange voice broke the silence of her bedroom.
"I have a knife at your neck. Don't make a sound. Get up and come with me."
Smart had planned to go to Brigham Young University and continue playing the harp before eventually getting married and having children, plans that suddenly seemed a distant memory as she was led from her childhood home in Salt Lake City into the woods at knifepoint, she recalled Friday night at Bluffton High School.
As part of an event hosted by the Child Abuse Prevention Association of Beaufort, Smart spoke for more than an hour about the nine harrowing months she spent in captivity and her eventual rescue, a story that gained international media attention.
She is also expected to appear in Beaufort at a charity run/walk hosted by the nonprofit organization, officials said.
The audience sat in silence as Smart, now 24, talked about her captors, Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Illeen Barzee, about Mitchell's plan to kidnap six other teenagers and about the moment she was reunited with her father after being spotted walking down a Sandy, Utah, street.
"The door flung open and there was my dad, just standing there," Smart said. "Very few people can say that one of the happiest days of their lives included being in the basement of a police station."
Mitchell was sentenced to life in prison for abducting and sexually assaulting the teen. Barzee was sentenced to 15 years in prison for her role in the kidnapping.
With her captors behind bars, Smart has become an advocate for children, speaking out against child pornography, lobbying Congress to pass more stringent sexual predator laws and doing what she can to raise awareness of child abuse.
"We have to step up for children," Smart said. "Keep your ears open and your eyes open for something that just doesn't quite seem right. If there is a room full of good-intentioned people all expecting someone else to do something, nothing is ever going to get done."
Her message and story resonated with many in attendance.
Mike Pierce, a local agent for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and a CAPA board member, said he didn't realize the power of Smart's story until he heard it first hand.
"She's an absolutely incredible young woman," Pierce said. "Until I came face-to-face with her, I didn't understand it. Her resilience absolutely awes me."
- Elizabeth Smart's message to kids: Not all grown-ups are good, April 16, 2012
- Child advocate Elizabeth Smart to speak at CAPA event, March 20, 2012