APPLETON - Eleven years ago, Elizabeth Smart became known as a victim of and eventually a survivor of kidnapping. Now 25, she uses her story to try to help bring other missing children home -- as she did in our area Wednesday.
In June 2002, then 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped from her Utah home. She was found and reunited with her family nine months later.
Smart has said she would never wish to repeat her ordeal, but says it's given her an opportunity to advocate for other missing children.
"A community that says 'oh, that's not our problem, that doesn't happen here,' they're just lying to themselves, because it happens everywhere," explained Smart.
Smart shared her experience at Fox Valley Technical College's annual Responding to Missing & Unidentified Persons National Training Conference Wednesday.
The crowd was made up of law enforcement and civilians working in advocacy for the missing.
"It's an opportunity for all the disciplines in missing people to get together and learn how we can continue the effort to bringing them home," explained Jay Breyer with MissionHome.
Smart said the most important lesson to be learned from her story is that the search should never stop. She explained that even after the first, critical 24 hours, the focus should not turn to simply finding a perpetrator.
"We should still be focusing all our time and energy, everything that we have on finding those children," said Smart.
"First is to bring them home anyway we can and then hold the people accountable for their disappearance," said Breyer, continuing the idea.
Smart told us public awareness is also key to bringing children home. She was rescued because average citizens recognized her with her captors and called the police.
"It doesn't have to be someone in a uniform that makes the difference," said Smart.
Smart ended by saying her story can not only teach, but also inspire hope.
"Realizing we all have our trials, we all have our hard times, but that doesn't mean we can't overcome them," she said.
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