Sharing Troubled Past May Have Saved Atlanta Hostage

"I was scared to death. I said, if it makes him as crazy as it makes me, I'm about to die right now."

Surprisingly, Smith says, the drug seemed to have no outward effect on Nichols. But what happened next was a defining moment in her personal fight against addiction.

"He said, 'You're not going to do it with me?' And I looked at him boldly and said, 'No. I'm a drug addict and that stuff has ruined my life,' " Smith recounted.

By now, Nichols had put his guns away and was carefully listening to the story of his hostage's troubled life.

"I was in the lowest pit of self-pity that anyone could ever be in, feeling sorry for myself and not wanting to, or not knowing how to, really, do anything about it," Smith said. She was taking 30 pain pills a day until she discovered meth.

Smith's aunt, Kim Rogers, finally stepped in, taking legal custody of 3-year-old Paige.

"It was the best place for her to be at the time," Rogers said.

At one point, Smith's mother and aunt admitted her to a mental hospital for three days. "I was choosing the drugs over my daughter," Smith told Roberts. "And I struggled with it, to hide that pain, to hide the pain of you are such a sorry person that you're going to choose drugs over her. And I kept doing it, to hide it more."

Two years later, drugs were still a constant temptation to Smith until the encounter with Nichols. Scrawny and disheveled, Smith was living alone -- finding happiness only in her twice monthly visits with her daughter.

"While I was in the house, I was a prisoner, but I was free when I said no to the drugs," Smith said. "It was kind of like, I can breathe."

A Miraculous End to the Ordeal

Smith also talked to Nichols about her daughter. "I remember saying, 'I've got to see my daughter tomorrow. Am I going to be able to?' And the first response out of his mouth at first was 'no,' " Smith said. "And I'm telling him, please don't hurt me. I have a little girl that doesn't have a daddy. She needs her mom."

Throughout the night, Ashley continued to insist on going to her 9:30 a.m. appointment with Paige. Before dawn, she read aloud from Rick Warren's inspirational book, "A Purpose-Driven Life." Gradually, she gained the confidence to confront her captor.

"I said, 'You need to turn yourself in. And you need to turn back to God,' " said Smith.

Smith says that throughout the evening, Nichols' demeanor changed and he became increasingly calm.

"He just looked like a different person. Kind of humbled, at peace maybe," she said. "But I can remember him looking at the TV going, 'I cannot believe that is me on TV.' "

Smith told Nichols he had to repent. "And I'm like, 'Yeah, you have to believe that is you. You have to ask for forgiveness and you have to pay for what you did and you have to get over it and you have to move on.' "

Around 6 a.m., four hours after he had taken her captive, Nichols ordered Smith to follow him in her car to ditch the stolen pickup truck. It was the perfect chance for Smith to escape.

She actually dialed 911 on her cell phone but never pressed the send button. She thought that if she called the police, there could be a shootout and she could be killed.

"I just knew that if I got back to the house then I was going to leave. And when I left, nobody else would get hurt," Smith said. "I knew they could surround him there, and it would be his decision on whether or not more people died there that way."

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