(ABC4) – In 2002, one Utah girl captured the attention of thousands nationwide. Elizabeth Smart, just 14 at the time, was abducted from her bedroom in Salt Lake City and held captive for nine months until she was spotted in Sandy. Her abductors were then arrested and sentenced.
Smart now advocates for child safety and oversees a foundation named after her, which aims to “bring hope and end the victimization and exploitation of sexual assault through prevention, recovery, and advocacy.” She recently spoke out about another case grabbing the nation’s attention – the case of Gabby Petito.
Petito was reported missing in early September after she had been on a cross-country road trip with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, for multiple months. Eight days after she was reported missing, Petito was found dead in Wyoming with a coroner recently revealing her cause of death was strangulation. Authorities are still searching for Laundrie, who is the only named person of interest in her case.
“I was alive. I came home,” Smart explained to Jada Pinkett Smith and Adrienne Banfield Norris on their Facebook series Red Table Talk. “[Gabby’s story] tragically has not ended that way. But knowing what it’s like being on the other side and potentially what may have happened and what may have led up to her final moments and understanding probably a lot of what she was feeling, it’s heartbreaking.”
Smart continues, saying the worst part for her parents during her disappearance was “not knowing” if she was alive. She recounts asking her kidnapper that if he was going to rape and kill her to “do it fairly close to my house, because it was important to me that my parents find my body and know I hadn’t run away.”
“When I think of Gabby Petito, when I think of all of these other victims, I feel like they still deserve every bit as much to be found so that their stories have an ending as well,” Smart tells Pinkett Smith and Banfield Norris. At one point, Banfield Norris had to take a break to collect herself emotionally as Smart recounts her story.
SLIDESHOW: Photos from the Gabby Petito case
As the show continues, images and information about other missing people from across the country appear on the screen. Pinkett Smith applauds Smart’s efforts to bring attention to those in “marginalized communities that might not get the same amount of press as you got or Gabby got.”
“I believe that every single person deserves to have that attention in regards to being missing,” Pinkett Smith continues. Smart echoes Pinkett Smith’s remarks, adding she hears new stories of people who have gone missing throughout the last two decades.
“Are they any less worthy?” Smart adds. “Has any less of a hole been left because they’re gone? No, they’re somebody.”
Smart’s episode comes shortly after Petito’s family, specifically her father Joe, called on everyone to give “the same type of heightened awareness” to other missing persons cases that Petito’s received. Pinkett Smith commended his call, saying she thought it “was such a powerful message” and applauded their “strength, courage, compassion to think about others who are going through the same thing.”
During the same episode, a former federal prosecutor, Laura Coates, joined the table. She tells the others, “It breaks my heart to think about how many people, how many children, are wondering, are they enough for somebody to look for me?”