Before Terri Schiavo rose to the forefront of the news in the last few days, Ashley Smith was the top media star. Something felt phony to me about the story of the woman who turned in the accused Atlanta rampage murderer Brian Nichols. Ashley Smith is being hailed as a hero and maybe an angel. This supposed heroic angel says, while Nichols held her hostage, she calmly read to him from the best-selling Christian motivational book, "The Purpose Driven Life", by Rick Warren, causing him to see that he must stop his rampage and turn himself in. But there is much about her and her story which does not sound right to me.
Why should we care that much about a woman maybe embellishing her story about getting herself out of a hostage situation. After all she was a hostage, she did get herself out alive and she was instrumental in enabling the capture of a killer. I probably would have let it go, but because her story resonated so strongly with the same Christian Evangelicals who brought us George W. Bush and the War in Iraq, and they were so quick to proclaim her an angel and use the story for increasing PDL book sales and evangelical recruiting, I decided to look more into it.
This is an attractive woman who obviously is very bright and in possession of her senses. Watching her interviewed, she told her story calmly, only tearing up when she mentioned her daughter - she is a single widowed mother of a five year old, who was not with her the night this all happened. But then the first flag went up for me. She has news conferences, gives interviews, poses for magazine covers, etc., within a day or two of this traumatic experience. Wouldn't you think she would have been so traumatized and so in need of being near her daughter that she would be in seclusion with her? But then, wouldn't you think she could have figured out some way her daughter could be spending the night with her also?
As her story developed, it came out this 25 year old reportedly does have a record of shoplifting, drunk driving, speeding and battery going back to age 16. She reportedly now has turned her life around and supposedly the PDL book is a large part of that. On the night in question, she had just gotten off work at 2AM from her restaurant job and was going to pick her daughter up in the morning from Ashleys aunt with who daughter "lives". Flag - why does her daughter not live with Ashley? After reaching her apartment, she went out to the store to get cigarettes. Flag - 2:30 AM with a killer on the loose - well I have never had a nicotine fit, so maybe that is what happens. She noticed on leaving her apartment a man sitting in a pick up truck in the parking lot. Flag raised by a nicotine fit person on the Net- how would she have noticed that in such a nicotine fit? If she did see him, did she not wonder who would be sitting out there at 2AM? On returning, she noticed he was still there, but moved to a different spot. Again, would not security concerns maybe make her call the cops on her cell to check him out? At least, would not she have avoided getting out of her car where he could see her? No, she says she got out of her car right in front of him and then heard his door open and then he had her.
Once the Schiavo story got hot, I dropped my checking on Ashleys story, but up to that time, seemingly every item I found, such as interviews with her aunt and grandparents, raised more flags. Here is the CNN transcript of her story
about Nichols holding her hostage. I set out below a brief listing, in no particular order, of the other flags and questions raised for me, but you will need to know the full hostage story she told to better understand my flags.
Why did she have men's clothing in her apartment for him to change into? Was she still keeping her late husbands clothes four years after he died? Were they just the right size for Nichols? Does she have any man in her life right now and if so where is he? How did Nichols know that she didn't have a man living with her in her apartment when he grabbed her, or didnt he care?
What was the story of her husband having been stabbed 4 yrs earlier and dying in her arms? Columbia County, Georgia police say in August 2001, the Smiths and some friends had gone to an apartment complex to confront some acquaintances and Mr. Smith was stabbed twice, once in the chest. The group had loaded him into a van to go to the hospital when police arrived. He died and his killer has not been found Questions: if all knew each other, why has his killer not been found? She says he died in her arms, was that before they put him in the van, while they were trying to help him? Why did they not call 911 for an ambulance? Some on the Net have speculated this was a confrontation between rival drug gangs.
How could a person be so calm and cool as Ashley says she was through all this, going with Nichols to ditch the stolen truck and then riding him back in her car - wait, how did that work, she took her car and he took the truck? She had her cell phone and did not call 9/11, because she figured she could talk him into surrendering, whereas if she called the police he might get away? She had more confidence in herself than in the police. How about her cooking him pancakes and them watching TV news about the manhunt?
Why did he let her leave alone in the AM -had she conned him that much into believing she was going to let him stay there for a few days? The guy was obviously mental, but seemed cool about what he was doing according to the images of him caught on security cameras. Why did he fall for her pitch? What is his attitude toward women in general and is it affected by race (Nichols is black and Ashley is white)? Why did he kill the female court reporter? What is the full story of the former girlfriend he was on trial for allegedly kidnapping and raping? He allegedly burst into the home of ex-girlfriend with a machine gun and tied her up and sexually assaulted her for 3 days. How did that ordeal end? Nichols told Ashley he had a son born the day before her daughter. Who was the mother?
Ashley says Nichols called her an angel sent to stop him and she said something to the effect of God has a plan for you, maybe to preach to people in jail. She says she thinks he knew after they came back from the pickup truck ditching she was going to turn him in because he asked her to visit him in jail and she said she would. When she read to him from PDL she asked him what he thought his gifts were and his purpose was and he said he had the gift to talk to people and to tell them about her. In her interview she also talked about how she brought out his humanity and how he did not want to kill people. Does this not sound like laying groundwork for an argument against the death penalty? An angel from God shows a sinner his destiny is to live to reach out to other sinners in prison.
According to Ashleys aunt, Ashley supposedly gave her custody two years ago until Ashley could get herself "on her feet" to be able to care for her daughter again. Her daughter lives in Atlanta and Ashley in Duluth. Ashley has been going to school for six months to be a medical assistant. Is the school near Duluth, so is that why Ashley lives there rather than closer to her daughter? The aunt is married to a medical doctor and they live in gated community where Ashley and the daughter are staying with them now. Why didnt Ashley stay with them before, to be able to be near her daughter and to avoid having to pay apartment rent while she was getting on her feet? The arrangement to care for Smith's daughter had nothing to do with Smith's criminal record of mostly petty crimes from age 16 to 25, her aunt said. Having custody of the child helped the aunt and her husband to enroll her in school and seek medical care for her if necessary.
Ashleys grandparents, Dick and Ann Mahovec of Augusta say she was raised in the church and attended services every Sunday and they hoped that upbringing would eventually balance out bad judgment. She said she did rely on her upbringing during the ordeal. Her Grandfather said, without elaborating, Ashley was raised by them after her mother "ran into some problems". Some on the Net have speculated that Ashleys mother may have had drug related problems. Elsewhere it was said that Ashley eventually went to live with her mother, and left her daughter with the aunt. What is the status of her relationship with her mother now? Where is the mother?
Her aunt says they noticed about Thanksgiving that Ashley seemed to be getting more into her spiritual seeking, and she told her aunt she needed to find the purpose that she knew God had for her. Sounds like PDL talk from Ashley but her former minister said in an interview she only "received" the PDL book a few weeks ago. When did she get it and from whom? Why hasnt the one who gave it to her come forward to maybe claim credit as an "angel before the fact"?
Her aunt later said they are an evangelical family and Ashley is from God and wants to tell her story, but "they" wont let her speak right now. Does that mean she has lawyers or advisors who are telling her to clam up so she doesnt get caught telling inconsistent versions of the story? Yes, Ashley already has a lawyer, Josh Archer. Ashleys lawyers apparently told her to hush up, so she read a teary statement saying she needed to drop from the limelight over this ordeal. But, after secluding herself at her aunts to avoid media attention during her recovery from this trauma, why did Ashley try to get an after hours hair appointment to dye her dark roots, according to her aunt? Her Aunt says Ashley has gotten four book offers and a Hollywood movie has been proposed and a hostage training center is interested in her story.
Ashley was on the job at the restaurant, training, for only 2 days. What jobs did she have before that and why was she just moving to a new Apartment? Wouldnt you think her uncle could have arranged a job for her in the medical field while she was going to school, as part of a plan to get her back with her daughter? Sounds like maybe they were wary of her before she became a hero.
What church has Ashley been attending? No one has come forward to talk about it, except somebody dug up a man in South Carolina who says he was her minister at one time but did not give any details and only said in a TV interview he had talked to Ashley the day before and she told him her story and that the PDL book is a must read. Who called him, Ashleys lawyers?
Did Ashley know or think of the announced reward money when she acted? Did she and Nichols discuss the reward when they watched the news together or when he talked about turning himself in? But actually, he did not turn himself in, did he? She called the cops on him when he let her go to her daughter, and the SWAT team surrounded him and induced his surrender. If he had been the one to call the police, would she have gotten the reward by claiming to have talked him into it? How do victims and their families feel about people who receive award money when the victims and their families get nothing? How do Christians feel about earning rewards for doing what is the right thing to do even without a reward?
So at the point I stopped checking, here is where my thoughts stood. Is the story exactly as Ashley said? Personally, I have a hard time accepting that. Did she embellish the PDL part of it? I think very likely so. Is the PDL story made up? Possibly. Did Nichols know Ashley before this and did he contact her to hide him once he got away? I would not rule it out, but if nobody comes forward soon to say so, then the likelihood diminishes. I think in spite of being capable of rampage, Nichols is also capable of calculation. Ashley also appears to be very wise in the ways of working people. If happenstance brought them together, they may have looked on it not so much as for a purpose, but as an opportunity - for him, knowing he was as he said already a "dead man", to try to escape the gallows by being seen as a repentant murderer destined to preach and reach other prisoners - and for her, to earn reward money and celebrity by being perceived as an angelic heroine. They may have still been considering such a plan, when she decided on her own to make the call to 911.
There are threads on the Net where people savage Ashley, even to the point of speculating that maybe she was previously involved with Nichols and was going to hide him out and help him escape, until she heard about the reward money and turned him in for it. If so, it would be pretty clever of her, because he would have nothing to gain by contradicting her story and he would lose his "destined to live" pitch. He has been silent since his capture.
Maybe some mainstream media will pick up on this whole story and look into its validity somewhere down the line, but the media seems to be very naive right now, or maybe just very reluctant to challenge this story which has been so embraced by millions of evangelicals.