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Elizabeth Smart visits GAC, touts child safety

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Elizabeth Smart speaks to parents, educators, community leaders and students at Greater Atlanta Christian School on Friday. Smart and her father, Ed, talked about the importance of safety empowerment for children.

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Elizabeth Smart speaks to parents, educators, community leaders and students at Greater Atlanta Christian School on Friday. Smart and her father, Ed, talked about the importance of safety empowerment for children.

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Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Alongside Keep Georgia Safe founder Gary Martin Hayes, far left, and executive director Mary Ellen Fulkus, far right, Ed Smart, speaks to the media on Friday after his daugher, Elizabeth, second from left, spoke at Greater Atlanta Christian School.

NORCROSS -- Elizabeth Smart will never forget the whispered words, breathed by the dark silhouette in her house on that summer night.

"All I heard was, 'I have a knife at your neck, don't make a sound. Get up and come with me,'" she said.

The horror story of Smart's 2002 kidnapping that ended with her recovery nine months later is one she hoped would never happen to anyone else.

She spoke Friday in Norcross on behalf of her foundation, which aims to prevent future crimes against children.

She thanked host Greater Atlanta Christian School and hundreds in attendance for furthering the foundation's cause with programs that aim to prevent children from ever having to experience what she did.

The school's involvement with radKIDS, a personal safety education program for children, is a point of pride, Smart said.

"I applaud you for taking this program into this community," Smart said. "Had I been through a program like radKIDS, I would have known more and been better informed in my situation."

In attendance Friday was radKIDS Executive Director Stephen Daley.

He said the program, which has been around for 10 years, has taught more than 250,000 children "to utilize knowledge, skills and power to protect themselves from violence and harm."

Smart's endorsement of such programs has helped garner support for them.

Her kidnapping on June 5, 2002, which gained widespread national attention, led her down the path of "being a child advocate."

Smart's father, also in attendance Friday, said the Elizabeth Smart Foundation's decision to support radKIDS was an easy one.

"This is a program that knows what to do to help our children be prepared, not scared," said Ed Smart. "This school sets a wonderful model for other schools by taking part in the program."

Some in attendance Friday said they enjoyed the message. Attendees included parents of students from the private Christian school as well as students and guests.

"It was interesting to hear," said student Eliza Clary. "It made me grateful for the safety we have."

Her friend, Caroline Day, said she wished all schools taught programs like radKIDS.

Smart, 23, said she hopes to continue her work with the foundation and to support programs that have similar missions.

"The most important thing is to teach children how to survive," Smart said.

"I decided, in the early stages of my kidnapping, that I would survive and I would see my family again one day."

According to its website, radKIDS "strengthens family, encourages physical fitness, and teaches core safety values to live by through its program."

For more information, visit www.radkids.org.

For more about the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, visit www.elizabethsmartfoundation.org.