Elizabeth Smart says her nine months of captivity were filled with terror, and she can't imagine what things must have been like for three women found at a Cleveland house after disappearing a decade ago.
"They must be so strong," Smart said Tuesday in an interview with The Associated Press. "It's easier to give up."
Smart was kidnapped from her Utah home in 2002 when she was 14 — her days in captivity filled with constant threats and physical abuse. She says she was elated to hear the three Ohio women were found safe Monday.
"Nine months was nine months too long for me," Smart said. "It's a miracle that they were found. It's amazing."
Smart, 25, was freed from her captor when she was found walking with him on a suburban street in March 2003.
She has created the Elizabeth Smart Foundation to bring awareness to predatory crimes against children, and she is working on a memoir, due out in October, about her experiences and how she turned them into a way to advocate for children.
Monday's discovery shows the importance of continued vigilance and the need for people to keep their eyes and ears open, she said.
"It's more proof that there are happy endings for children of abductions," she said.
Smart said the Ohio women should focus on moving forward and letting go of the past. She urged people to allow the families privacy so they can heal. She also advised the women not to let their alleged kidnappers continue to control their lives.
Smart said it doesn't help anybody's recovery for people to question why they didn't get away sooner. During her abduction, for instance, she felt trapped because her captor threatened to kill her or her family if she tried to escape.
"For me, it was a life-or-death situation," Smart said. "There were days I didn't know I'd make it."
What victims need to hear right away, Smart, is that "it's not their fault."
"It's never their fault," she said.
Smart credited her family, her faith, and her community with helping her move forward after her terrible ordeal. The path to recovery is different for each abduction victim, she said. It can be a combination of medication, years of therapy and the support of a close family.
Smart's father, Ed Smart, said in a phone interview Tuesday that the women's story is one of hope.
"I just couldn't be more excited and happy for these three women — three more miracles," he said. "It's hope and survival and being able to move forward. It's not a sad ending. It's a new life for them."
Asked about getting through post-abduction trauma, Ed Smart said, "Getting your daughter back is all you need. It's what I dreamed about and hoped for."
Ed Smart said he learned he had to let go of what happened to avoid dwelling on the past.
"Life's great," Ed Smart said. "She's doing what she wants to do. Having her do so well is an equal blessing."