Shock and horror swept across America when news broke that 13 starving siblings had been reportedly held captive in miserable conditions by their parents in California. Questions have arisen over why the seven adult children never tried to escape. Elizabeth Smart, a woman who was kidnapped as a teenager, has a message for the nation and words of encouragement for the now-rescued Turpin kids.
Smart made national news in 2002 when she was abducted from her bedroom by a man who claimed to be an end-times prophet of God. For nine months she was Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Elaine Barzee’s prisoner, raped, tortured, and threatened with the murder repeatedly over the course of nine months.
Initially, a disguised Smart was even taken out into public, according to the New York Times. While dressed in white robes with her face veiled, she appeared at restaurants, grocery stores, and block parties in the same metropolitan area where authorities were searching for her.
Smart was finally rescued after someone recognized her from news photos. Now 30, Smart has led a career as a child rights activist and journalists. She spoke with ABC News, who she works for as a contributor, this week and gave her take on the Turpin kids’ captivity.
As for why the Turpin kids never escaped until one 17-year-old girl did on Sunday, Smart replied, "That's an incredibly common question that I actually get asked all the time. When you're in a situation where you're being highly manipulated, where you're being tortured, where you’re being hurt, and especially for these children — these adult children who have been abused and tortured and manipulated probably their whole life — it isn’t just as easy as jumping in the car and driving away. Your brain does not think that way.”
“You go into a survival mode where you do whatever it takes to survive. Maybe these older children, sure they have cars, maybe they can drive to the store and drive back. I don’t know. But you’re not thinking ‘Oh, I’m in my car. I can just drive away.’ You’re thinking, ‘I’ve got to go back. I’ve got to survive. I’ve got to do everything that I can to live another day.’”
She added that we don’t know what threats the parents made to keep their children at home, and it’s not our role to harshly question why they didn’t escape.
Smart gave a powerful example, explaining, “Speaking as one who has been physically chained up, and as one who has also been held by chains of manipulations and threats, I will tell you every day of the week that the chains of manipulation and threats are so much stronger than actual, physical chains.”
In a message to the 13 siblings, she said, "It may shape you, it certainly will mold you, it might absolutely affect the direction of your life, but that does not have to define you. You can still move forward. What ultimately defines you are the choices that you make."
She added, "The human spirit is incredibly resilient. I do believe it's possible that one day will come where they don't have to consciously think about what happened to them."
To the 17-year-old who escaped — and is reportedly named Elizabeth, too — Smart called her a hero and said, "She showed incredible bravery and incredible courage. I would want her to know that she is strong and she is powerful."
Please pray for the siblings as they recovery physically but move forward mentally and spiritually. In related news, their aunt is revealing bizarre things she noticed about the family in the past, her own deeply disturbing experience with the dad, and her tearful message to her 13 nieces and nephews.