On March 12, 2005, Ashley Smith, a single mother, persuaded Brian Nichols, the alleged Atlanta courtroom gunman, to surrender to police. Smith was returning from a late-night cigarette run when Nichols forced his way into her apartment. He held her hostage for seven hours, as she fought for her life.
Nichols, who had been accused of binding and then repeatedly raping his girlfriend over the course of three days, allegedly went on a violent rampage at the courthouse. He allegedly stole a deputy's gun while in a holding cell and then shot the judge and court reporter. As he fled the scene, Nichols is accused of accosting a reporter, then shooting and killing a customs agent when trying to carjack him.
Smith succeeded in convincing Nichols to turn himself in. She explained to him she was a widow with a young daughter. She also provided him with crystal methamphetamine, but refused to do any herself because she didn't want to die having done drugs that day.
Below is an excerpt from Smith's new book, "Unlikely Angel: The Untold Story of the Atlanta Hostage Hero."
Friday, March 11, 2005
At 9:45 p.m. my cell phone rang. I looked down at my caller ID--it was my step-dad calling from Augusta again. What could he want this time?
"What are you doing?" he asked.
I was exhausted, almost too tired to answer. I held the phone against my ear with my shoulder so I could carry a load of trash out of my second-floor apartment down to my car. I had been moving for two days. My new place was a smaller, bottom-level apartment on the other side of the complex. I didn't have much left to do here--just some vacuuming and painting to return the place to its original condition. But I wasn't doing any of that tonight. I needed sleep. I was driving to Dacula in the morning to see Paige.
"I'm moving the rest of my stuff," I said, trying to get down the stairs. Just please let me get off this phone.
"You're out? There's a man on the loose and you're out? Haven't you been watching the news like I told you?"
This was the second time my step-dad had called me about the guy on the news. The first time was late this morning when he woke me up calling. He kept talking about a man and shootings at the courthouse, and he told me to stay inside. I'd been up all night unpacking boxes, and I just didn't understand his concern. I mean, I lived in Duluth, maybe half an hour northeast of downtown Atlanta.
"Thanks, but I'm not too worried about it," I had told him.
I learned a little more about the story when I went to work later in the day. I'd just started a second job at Barnacle's, a restaurant maybe five minutes from my apartment complex. The news was playing on the TV screens when I got there, and I caught the basics: A man had killed some people at the Fulton County Courthouse and now he was on the run. My coworkers were talking about it a lot, but I didn't pay too much attention. Being from Augusta, I was used to hearing about violent crime in Atlanta. And I had a lot on my mind with the move anyway.
"Look," I said to my step-dad now as I shut my car door and headed back up to the apartment, "this guy's not going to come after me. I mean, he could be anywhere."
I thought back to the five police officers who had come into Barnacle's for dinner. I was training to work the door, and as the men were walking out, I heard someone ask them, "Hey, have y'all caught that guy yet?"