If there is one person in the country who can imagine the range of emotions being felt by the three women found in Cleveland Monday after being missing for a decade it is Elizabeth Smart.
In 2002, Smart, then 14, was kidnapped and held captive for nine months by Brian Mitchell before being her release March 12, 2003.
Like Amanda Berry, 27, Gina DeJesus, 27, and Michele Knight, 32 – the three women found in Cleveland – Smart was found just miles from her Utah home. Also like the three women, Smart was rescued by a stranger who noticed something out of the ordinary and acted on it.
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“Their rescue is proof that there are good people out there, more good people than not, who want the best for them, who want them to be happy, want good things to happen,” Smart said today on “Good Morning America.”
Smart went on to study at Brigham Young University, marry a man she met while doing missionary work in Paris and become a vocal advocate for missing and exploited children. She says the future for Berry, DeJesus and Knight is just as bright.
“They should never feel like their worth has been lessened from anything that happened and I hope that they realize there’s so much ahead of them they don’t need to hold on to the past,” said Smart, currently a commentator for ABC News on missing person and child abduction cases.
As Smart adjusted back to life after her abduction, her mother, Lois Smart, advised her to not let Mitchell take away any more of her life than the nine months he already had.
Smart says that piece of advice is her number one tip for Berry, DeJesus and Knight, whom police believe were held locked inside the two-story home from which they escaped Monday by Ariel Castro, a 52-year-old former city school bus driver.
“It’d be to not allow this man to ruin another second of their lives,” she said. “He’s stolen so much from them already. They deserve to be happy and I’d tell them that they should never feel like they’re not worthy.”
“They don’t need to relive everything that’s happened,” Smart added.
Berry, who was also discovered to have a child with her in the home, is being hailed as the hero in the trio’s rescue after she let out cries for help and was aided by a neighbor, Charles Ramsey, in breaking down the door of the home to get her fellow captives out.
The actions of Berry and Ramsey, who, like the passerby who spotted Smart on the streets of Salt Lake City and called police, were praised by Smart as a sign of hopefulness for other families with missing loved ones.
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“It’s just proof that there are more happy endings out there,” she said. “It just means we need to have constant vigilance and constantly keep your eyes open and ears open because miracles do happen.”