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This Is The Incredible True Story Of Elizabeth Smart

Quite often, the outcome of a crime comes down to one or two choices. If it hadn't been for the Mary Katherine Smart's level-headed response to an intensely terrifying situation, her sister, Elizabeth Smart, might not have survived the next nine months.

While she pretended to sleep, nine-year-old Mary Katherine Smart watched in horror as a strange man entered their room.

Her heart raced as he stood for a second over her bed, then turned towards the other bed in the room. Horrified, she watched as the man with a knife woke her sleeping sister and took her from their home.

Find out how choice changed the game for Elizabeth Smart. Turn to page 2...

Choice

It's hard to imagine that something like this could happen to anyone. Thankfully, Mary Katherine had the wherewithal to pretend sleep. If she had woken, she may have been taken too - or worse.

This was the first, crucial moment of choice that changed the course of the crime and shifted the balance in favor of Elizabeth, even if no one else knew that she had been taken.

Mary Katherine walked out after them, intending tell her parents what had happened, but then she saw him and Elizabeth in the hall.

She was so afraid that the man with the knife would return for her too, that she went back to her room and waited silently for two hours.

She got up the courage to walk to her parents' room where she told them that Elizabeth was gone.

Over the next nine months, her family would embark on a heartbreaking search for Elizabeth. Find out what happened to her on the next page.

Captive

No one but Elizabeth knew who her abductor was. The man that had taken her was the odd job man who the Smarts had hired to do work around their house.

The family regularly hired unemployed people in the area to do work around the property, but this man had given them a fake name and story. To the Smarts, he was Emmanuel, but to his family and his wife, he was Brian David Mitchell.

Mitchell lead the pajama-clad Elizabeth from her Salt Lake City bed deep into the woods. He chained her to a makeshift mountain campsite a few miles from her home.

With the help of his wife, Wanda Eileen Barzee, he kept her captive for the next nine months.

Elizabeth suffered horrifying abuses including repeated rapes at the hands of Mitchell. Over the months, his abuses intensified.

A few months into her disappearance, Mary Katherine remembered something that lead to a break in the case and Elizabeth's rescue...

Identity

Several months into the search for Elizabeth, Mary Katherine began to recall details about the night of her sister's abduction.

She soon realized that she recognized the kidnapper's voice and identified "Emmanuel" (Mitchell). The Smarts went straight to the authorities, but the police opted not to follow the lead.

L-R: Elizabeth and Mary Katherine Smart with their mother Lois

Desperate to find their daughter, her parents hired a private sketch artist. The photo and a description of Mitchell was sent to America's Most Wanted.

Not long after the broadcast aired, a family member of Mitchell's identified him and alerted the police of his real name.

Thanks to Mary Katherine's clue, a biker noticed Mitchell with two people - one of whom was Elizabeth, the other was Barzee.

The police surrounded Mitchell and managed to guide Elizabeth away from her captors. At first, she was terrified to answer their questions - they kept asking the same thing: "What's your name?"

But, once away from Mitchell's rage-filled face, she found her voice: "I am Elizabeth," she said.

Elizabeth Smart has finally been able to put her horrifying past behind her. She credits her family, her Mormon faith and playing the harp with helping her to deal with the trauma of those horrifying nine months.

Today, she is an outspoken child safety activist and contributor for ABC News. She is happily married to husband Matthew Gilmour and the mother of their first daughter, Chloe Gilmour.

The couple welcomed their second child, a son born earlier this month.

PEOPLE

These two make my Easter perfect! 🐣 #soinlove #happyeaster #sundaysareforfamily #blessed #bigthingsinlittlepackages

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smiling, eyes open, and looking at the camera! #victory #sundaysareforfamily #afterchurchphoto

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[h/t Today /  NBC News / InTouchWeekly ]