One was a captive, abducted from her Utah home at 14, chained to a tree and raped nearly every day for nine months. The other, a longtime Snohomish County deputy prosecutor, spent much of her career seeking justice for sexual assault survivors and championing children’s rights.
“Dawson Place is a place you should be proud of,” said Elizabeth Smart, who in 2002 was kidnapped from her bedroom in Salt Lake City. Now 30 and a married mother of two, Smart was keynote speaker at the fund-raising lunch that brought more than 700 people to Everett’s Xfinity Arena conference center.
Near the end of the program, former Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Seth Dawson, for whom the center is named, announced that Lisa Paul is the recipient of the organization’s 2017 Secure the Future Award.
Paul, 59, was a deputy prosecutor in Snohomish County from 1988 until her retirement in June, much of that time as head of the Special Assault Unit. The unit handles child abuse cases and adult sexual offenses.
Dawson, who hired Paul, said she “played a major role in the creation of, and the ongoing success of our child advocacy center.”
“Beginning in the ’90s, in two long stints as the head of the Special Assault Unit, our award winner often kept the messiest and most challenging child abuse cases, and handled them herself,” Dawson said. “The beautiful, tender way she treated those children earned her many admirers, and set the standard for other prosecutors.”
Dawson Place, at the northeast corner of California Street and Hoyt Avenue in downtown Everett, provides services for child victims of physical abuse, sexual assault and drug endangerment. It also helps child witnesses of violent crimes. Counseling, forensic exams and some of the work of police, prosecutors and the state’s child protective services happen all in one place.
Earlier Thursday, Smart toured Dawson Place. With the purchase of a building next door, the center was recently renovated to be more child-friendly and expanded, adding more room for therapy and a prevention and outreach program. Lori Vanderburg, Dawson Place executive director, said the center serves nearly 1,200 children and teens each year.
As Smart came to the dais, a hush fell over the crowd — which luncheon emcee and deputy prosecutor Adam Cornell said was the largest ever in the Xfinity ballroom.
In chilling detail, the beautiful young woman talked about her kidnapping and the sickening months that followed. At the time, Smart said, she was “a shy wallflower, so excited to leave junior high.” That horrifying night, June 5, 2002, she said she awoke in her bedroom to hear a man’s voice saying: “I have a knife at your neck. Don’t make a sound.”
She said he took her up a hill in the darkness, and told her, “I’m not going to rape and kill you — now.”
That man, Brian David Mitchell, and his female accomplice, Wanda Barzee, at first kept Smart in a tent. They told the teen she was Mitchell’s wife. He raped her, used metal cable around her ankles to bind her to trees and told her every day that he would kill her and her family if she yelled or tried to escape.
“There are people that evil,” Smart said. “I didn’t run because I didn’t feel I could.”
Early on, she wished for death. “I felt so soiled, filthy, dirty,” she said. Yet, remembering the love of her family, especially her mother, Smart decided “I’d do whatever I could to survive.”
After her captors took her to Southern California in the winter, Smart said she convinced them to hitchhike back to Utah. In March 2003, police found the kidnappers and Smart in Sandy, Utah. Smart’s face was hidden behind a veil.
Smart, who was overjoyed to be reunited with her family, said she’ll never forget her mother’s advice: “It’s not what happens to us that defines us. It’s what we do next,” she said. Her mother also told her that the best punishment for her captors would be for her to live a happy life.
After her ordeal, Smart attended Brigham Young University, completed a missionary trip and married Matthew Gilmour.
She testified against her captors. Mitchell was sentenced to life in prison. Barzee, who pleaded guilty, was given a 15-year sentence.
Two productions will bring Smart’s story to TV audiences this month. The two-part “Elizabeth Smart: Autobiography” is scheduled to air Sunday and Monday nights on A&E. And a young actress portrays her in a TV movie, “I Am Elizabeth Smart,” airing Nov. 18 on Lifetime.
Smart said that in bringing her nightmare to audiences, she aims to give other survivors hope.
“When Elizabeth talked about how she survived, I would say thrived,” Cornell said. He shared an apt quote from “A Farewell to Arms,” by novelist Ernest Hemingway: “The world breaks everyone, and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”
Accepting her award, Paul was brief in her comments. She expressed thanks and said the honor was a complete surprise. She then shared what had just happened in the hallway. Paul said she was at a table handing out name tags when she noticed a girl looking at her.
Paul had met the girl in court.
“She went through two trials, and was adopted by a lovely family,” Paul said. Applause rang out for that young survivor as Paul thanked the girl and her family, who were sitting in the audience.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@herald net.com.