Ed Smart knows the ache of waking up and discovering a daughter has vanished.
He also knows the joy of seeing her again and easing her back into a normal life. He’s been gripped by the unfolding story of Shasta Groene.
Smart’s daughter, Elizabeth Smart, was 14 in 2002 when a homeless street preacher forcibly took her from her bed at night. She was found alive nine months later.
Smart came to the Inland Northwest this week with a stuffed animal from Elizabeth’s younger sister for Shasta. He also had a message for the community: Prepare for bad people who want to harm your children.
“It’s something a parent never thinks will happen,” Smart said Thursday morning in Moscow, Idaho, his third Idaho appearance to promote child identification kits.
Smart said he was overwhelmed and heartbroken when his daughter was taken, which made the events in Coeur d’Alene seem all too familiar.
“When we hear of these other abductions like Shasta (Groene) … we recall very close to our hearts what happened in our family,” Smart said at the press conference.
The National Child Identification Program said 800,000 children go missing in America every year, and they would like to help parents gather fingerprints and DNA records of their children. All 67 credit unions in Idaho will sell the kits to parents for $10 and less.
“It’s the insurance policy I hope none of you will have to use,” Smart said. “In case it does happen, it will be here when minutes make the difference between life and death.”
Every parent knows the panic of losing a child, whether it’s a few minutes in a department store or nine months, Smart said.
Smart flew into Spokane Wednesday night, and before his 10 a.m. press conference in Moscow Thursday, he drove to Coeur d’Alene’s Kootenai Medical Center unannounced to see if he could meet the Groene family and leave a stuffed pink rabbit.
“I felt like I was so close that I should try to stop by,” Smart said after his press conference.
He was turned away even though a staffer did recognize him, Smart said. He ended up leaving the gift and card with a receptionist.
Smart said he prays that Shasta recovers as well as his daughter has.
Elizabeth Smart is almost 18 and has been considering which college to attend.
“We’d like her to stay close to home,” Smart said.
When his daughter disappeared from their Utah home, Smart released numerous photos and family videos to the media. In return, the nation began to care greatly, Smart said. Once she was found, it was a challenge to return to a more private way of life.
“It is a double-edged sword,” Smart said.
At times it was hard, but his community and the media respected the family’s wish for privacy.
“Without the media, people would not have had the chance to care as much as they did,” Smart said.
Smart appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show after the ordeal. The family also wrote a book.
His daughter is still recognized in public.
“She likes to be left alone,” Smart said.
Smart also speaks for a group called Radkids, a place that encourages children to learn how to handle attempted abductions, bullies and abuse. Smart wears a blue bracelet on his left wrist embedded with the group’s name.
Smart grew steely-eyed when he said he’s working to strengthen laws to keep sex offenders off the streets and away from children.
The man who abducted Elizabeth Smart – Brian David Mitchell – has appeared in court in a competency hearing this week.
Smart watched the seemingly-crazed man break into song in the courtroom.
He doesn’t plan to waste another moment on Mitchell, a man he’s never spoken to and never will.
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