IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

to set her free

The woman held hostage by the suspect in Atlanta’s courthouse slayings told NBC News
/ Source: NBC News and news services

Ashley Smith, the woman held hostage in her apartment by the suspect in Atlanta’s courthouse slayings, said Monday she hopes Brian Nichols realizes he did the right thing by not killing her and instead surrendering without a fight.

“I hope that he’s sitting in jail right now, thinking that he did the right thing and that he knows he did the right thing," Smith said on NBC's "Today" show.

Smith, 26, added that Nichols "finally let me leave when I told him I needed to" go see her 5-year-old daughter, Paige, who was at a church function.

Nichols apparently was touched by that mother-daughter connection. "I just told him that she didn't have a daddy anymore and if he killed me she wouldn't have a mommy either. I saw her face in my head almost the entire time," she told NBC. Smith's husband was killed in a stabbing four years ago.

"It calmed him down a little," Smith added, noting that when she finally opened her door to leave, Nichols asked, "Will you tell Paige hello for me?"

Monday evening, Smith, at times fighting tears, read a statement to the media outside her  home, expressing sympathy for the families of the shooting victims and asking that her need to rest be respected.

Discussing God
Smith told a news conference on Sunday that when Nichols let her go he said he wanted to stay at her apartment for a few more days.

During the ordeal, Smith said she gently talked to Nichols, turning from hostage to confidant as they discussed God, family, pancakes and the massive manhunt going on outside her apartment.

“I believe God brought him to my door,” Smith said just hours after her 911 call ended a manhunt for Nichols, who is accused of killing four people and wounding a fifth.

He felt 'already dead'
Over the course of the night, Nichols untied Smith, and some of the fear lessened as they talked. Nichols told Smith he felt like “he was already dead,” but Smith urged him to consider the fact that he was still alive a “miracle.”

“You’re here in my apartment for some reason,” she told him, saying he might be destined to be caught and to spread the word of God to fellow prisoners. She told him his escape from authorities had been a “miracle.”

Smith later called 911 after she was freed, and police soon surrounded her suburban apartment complex. Nichols gave up peacefully, waving a white towel in surrender.

“I honestly think when I looked at him that he didn’t want to do it anymore,” Smith said. If he did not give up, she told him, “Lots more people are probably going get hurt and you’re probably going to die.”

'Best-case scenario'
Police said they were impressed by the way Smith handled herself.

“She acted very cool and levelheaded. We don’t normally see that in our profession,” said Gwinnett County Police Officer Darren Moloney. “It was an absolutely best-case scenario that happened, a complete opposite of what you expected to happen. We were prepared for the worst and got the best.”

The crime spree began when Nichols allegedly overpowered a courthouse deputy escorting him to his rape trial Friday and took the deputy’s gun, then killed the presiding judge and court reporter. He also is accused of killing a deputy who tried to stop him outside the courthouse and a during his flight from authorities.

Smith said her ordeal began around 2 a.m. Saturday morning with Nichols sticking a gun in her side in the parking lot of her apartment when she returned from a store.

He tied her up and told her to sit in the bathroom while he took a shower. “He said, ‘I’m not going to hurt you if you just do what I say,”’ she said. He told her: “I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t want to hurt anybody else.”

He wanted 'normalness'
Choking back tears, she said she told Nichols that her husband died four years ago and if he hurt her, her little girl wouldn’t have a mother or father. Smith’s attorney, Josh Archer, said her husband died in her arms after being stabbed.

The two talked about the Bible and she handed him photos of her family. When morning came, Nichols was “overwhelmed” when Smith made him pancakes with real butter, she said. He told her he “just wanted some normalness to his life,” she said.

Nichols at one point called her "an angel sent from God," Smith said.

The two watched television news reports about the slayings and the manhunt. “I cannot believe that’s me on there,” Smith quoted Nichols as saying.

The Fulton County District Attorney’s Office hopes to formally charge Nichols with the new crimes within 30 days, spokesman Erik Friedly said Sunday. Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard still would like to resolve Nichols’ interrupted rape retrial.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Monday that a courthouse surveillance camera recorded Nichols’ initial surprise attack on Deputy Cynthia Hall but that no one in the control center noticed the assault.

“It’s not just horrible, it was preventable,” Senior Superior Court Judge Philip Etheridge told the newspaper.