Tuesday, July 5, 2005
Ashley Smith was just getting her life back together. As a 26-year-old single mom, she had had a pretty rough journey. A Christian upbringing but a youthful rebellion - brushes with the law, some drug issues, jobs found and lost - and finally marriage and a little girl. Four years ago, her husband died in her arms from stab wounds in a violent attack. On that night in March of 2005, she was just getting settled in the apartment she had moved into two days earlier. When she returned from her 2:00 A.M. run to the store, accused killer Brian Nichols forced his way into her apartment at gunpoint. Nichols was the object of the largest manhunt in Georgia history after his deadly escape from a downtown courtroom where he left the judge and three others shot to death. Later, he shot another man. Initially, he bound and gagged Ashley. Eventually, he began to trust her enough to give her some freedom. And for seven hours, she began to talk to the killer in her living room. She talked about the battles of her life - about the little daughter she was supposed to pick up the next morning - and about her newly reborn faith. With his permission, she read to him from the book she was reading, The Purpose-Driven Life.
Ultimately, he allowed Ashley to leave - after she seemingly had persuaded him to consider ending the killing and to give up peacefully. After she called law enforcement - as he almost surely knew she would - they swarmed around that apartment only to see him come out and quietly surrender. Later, Ashley Smith recalled some extraordinary things that Brian Nichols had said to her. He told her he thought she was an angel sent from God - that he was lost and that God had led him right to her so she could tell him, from the well of her own hurt, how the people he had hurt were feeling. She told him he was a child of God and that she wanted him to do God's will. Then she said, "I guess he began to want to." For days, the national media talked over and over again about those extraordinary seven hours and the incredible young woman who had helped end a bloodbath. She said it was not her at all. It was the God who was leading her now "purpose-driven life."