In California in 2003, Elizabeth -- kidnapped at age 14 -- realized that no one would find her there, that her chances would be better back in the Salt Lake Valley.
In her testimony against Brian David Mitchell in October, she described how she borrowed his tactic of using religion to justify everything he did. She had a "strong feeling" about returning to Utah.
Mitchell would claim it was his revelation that brought them back. But Elizabeth's father, Ed Smart, as well as U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman, see it as her ability to understand and countermanipulate her tormentor.
On the stand, she described in unflinching detail what she had endured during her captivity. She had wanted to confront Mitchell with her eyes and words, but, predictably, he sang his hymns and was removed from the courtroom.
When it was over, Elizabeth Smart strode, tall and straight, into the rest of her life.
For so many of us, her astonishing homecoming restored hope when there seemed to be none, and the knowledge that even terrible times can end, and end well.
And she taught us this: Faith, whatever its source, can make amazing things happen.
For that lesson, and for her intelligence, resilience and grace, The Salt Lake Tribune has named Elizabeth Smart its 2009 Utahn of the Year.