The Campbell Hotel was honored to host Elizabeth Smart Gilmour while she was in town to speak Friday night at the University of Tulsa as part of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Oklahoma’s Women of Character series.
At 14, Gilmour was a self-described “wallflower” living with her parents in Utah when a man who called himself “Emmanuel” kidnapped her from her bedroom at knifepoint and kept her hostage for nine months, raping her repeatedly and subjecting her to all manner of degradation and humiliation.
Aided by a woman he called “Hepzibah,” Emmanuel — who claimed to be a prophet and frequently used religion to justify his behavior and manipulate the people around him — took Gilmour to California, where he planned to kidnap another girl as part of a larger plan to acquire seven young “wives” from across the country.
When his plan fell through and he was unable to kidnap his intended victim, he and Hepzibah began discussing where they should go next.
Gilmour knew her best hope of being found lay in Utah, where there was a chance someone would recognize her, so she told her captors that while she knew God would never send a revelation to such a “wicked and self-righteous” girl, she kept “having this feeling” that they should return to Utah, and she thought Emmanuel should pray about it.
The ruse worked, and the three eventually hitchhiked to Sandy, Utah, where police found them walking down State Street, arrested her captors, and reunited Gilmour with her family.
The day after her rescue, her mother gave her a piece of advice, which Gilmour shared with her audience Friday night.
“What this man has done to you is terrible,” Gilmour’s mother told her, “but don’t give him another minute of your life. Don’t allow yourself to sink into the past of everything that’s happened. … Your life is too precious to give any more time to him. The best punishment you could ever give him is to be happy.”
Gilmour has spent the past decade doing just that. Since her rescue, she has lobbied Congress to pass better legislation protecting children from sexual predators; studied harp performance at Brigham Young University; established a foundation to help children avoid or recover from violence; and spent a year as a Mormon missionary in Paris, where she met her husband, Matthew Gilmour, whom she married in February. She also works as a commentator for ABC News, focusing on missing persons, and speaks to audiences about the importance of moving forward rather than dwelling on past experiences.
“We can overcome what we are given,” Gilmour told her audience Friday. “You can make a difference, and you can overcome it.”