Smart: I Will Continue to Speak Out
Elizabeth Smart, whose 2002 abduction at the age of 14 captured worldwide attention, spoke in Canton Wednesday night.
There are several days that Elizabeth Smart will never forget.
Her sixth grade graduation.
Entering high school.
And March 12, 2003, the day that police officers found her walking the streets of Sandy, UT, with her two kidnappers, rescued her and returned her to her parents. Nine months had passed since her June 2002 abduction from her Salt Lake City bedroom at the age of 14.
“I will never forget hearing the words, ‘I have a knife at your neck, don’t make a sound, get up and come with me,’ ” Smart said Wednesday night during a program at the Northside Hospital-Cherokee Conference Center.
Smart, whose foundation has partnered with radKIDS, said that no child should have to go through what she did - being raped every day, and hearing that everything she had been told was a lie and that she should be grateful to have been kidnapped.
“If I had gone through radKIDS before I was kidnapped, I can’t say I wouldn’t have been kidnapped, I can’t say I wouldn’t have gone through hell,” Smart said. “I would have known I had options. I would have known I could scream, I could hit him, I could kick him where it counts.”
Canton-Cherokee radKIDS was established last month as a way to teach local children how to escape dangerous situations. On Wednesday, the program was dedicated to Jorelys Rivera, a 7-year-old girl who was abducted and killed in December by Ryan Brunn, a maintenance worker at the River Ridge of Canton apartment complex where Jorelys lived.
Jorelys’ mother, Jocelyn, said through a translator that the seminar and dedication of the radKIDS program meant a lot to her.
“She is happy because she met Elizabeth Smart but in other ways sad because her daughter isn’t alive,” a family member translated. “She thinks (radKIDS) will help kids to learn more about bad people.”
Family members and supporters of Jorelys wore bright pink shirts printed with the last picture the child drew before her death – a rainbow and a stick woman. Attorney Gary Martin Hays, founder and chairman of Keep Georgia Safe, said that those who attended the seminar show that the community is coming together in the wake of Jorelys’ death.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Hays said. “And, we know this community was hurting.”
The radKIDS program, which is proactive against bullying, can help turn Cherokee County into a zero victimization community, radKIDS founder Steve Daley said. That’s why it needs to be incorporated into school curriculum as was done in Gwinnett County.
“This isn’t just about abduction,” Daley said. “This is about stopping violence. radKIDS can teach children how to get out of a bathroom where they’re trapped. We can take our schools back.”
Daly said he realized there was a need to teach children how to protect themselves while working as a police officer. One night when responding to a child hurt call, he found a 6-year-old girl standing in the hallway of her home clutching her teddy bear.
“As I approached this little girl, I could see the front of her shirt was wet, and it wasn’t sweat,” Daley said. “But she wasn’t crying.”
Instead, the child stared at Daley.
“She looked at me and said, ‘Where were you?’ ” Daley said. “She didn’t blink and said, ‘You’re supposed to protect me (when) Mommy’s boyfriend hurts me.’ ”
And, the need for a program to train children was further solidified when Daley told his son that all people are bad.
“That lasted about five seconds,” Daley said. “He walked right up to someone and said, ‘How are you?’ The days of stranger-danger are gone.”
Since its inception in 1999, radKIDS has documented 81 saves from abduction, and thousands of sexual assault and bully saves. Smart said that as long as crime continues to happen, she will continue to speak out.
“I know that because of what I experienced, I can help people to act, to move, to make a difference,” she said. “As long as I think that I’m making a difference, that’s what I’m going to do.”