Atlanta hostage hero Ashley Smith, who won the trust of fugitive and murder suspect Brian Nichols by reading to him from Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life,” reveals in a new book that she also offered and gave her captor drugs during a seven-hour hostage ordeal.
Smith has been portrayed as a model Christian since first telling her story in March. In a book released Tuesday, however, she wrote she was trying to get her life on track but was still using drugs occasionally when Nichols held her hostage in her apartment early on Saturday, March 12.
At one point Nichols asked Smith if she had marijuana, she said in the book, Unlikely Angel: The Untold Story of the Atlanta Hostage Hero. She told him she didn’t, but volunteered she had some methamphetamine, an illicit drug also known as “crystal meth” or “ice.”
Smith said she had used the drug the night before, when she stayed up late while moving into her new apartment. She said Nichols asked her to take it with him, but she declined.
“If the cops were going to bust in here and find me dead, they were not going to find drugs in my body when they did the autopsy,” she wrote. “I was not going to die tonight and stand before God, having done a bunch of ice up my nose. Jesus was not going to look at me and say, ‘Well, the last minutes of your life you did drugs.’ It just wasn’t going to happen. I wanted God to be proud of me. I wanted to hear him say, ‘You made a good decision this time.'”
She said Nichols didn’t know how to use the drug and she set it up for him. She tried to talk him out of using it, fearing it would make him crazy, by telling him that drugs had ruined her life. She spent time in a mental hospital, was in a serious car wreck and turned care of her daughter over to an aunt, all because of dependence on drugs, she says.
Smith said the hostage incident turned out to be her “spiritual awakening,” a term she had read in the 12th step of her Alcoholics Anonymous handbook, and realization that she was a drug addict.
“This right here–this whole thing with you being here in my apartment right now and wanting this stuff–this is God’s way of telling me, ‘Look, Ashley, stop now. I’m giving you one more chance. You better stop right now, little girl, or I’m bringing you home,” she said she told Nichols.
Nichols is accused of killing four people, including a judge, in an escape from the Fulton County Courthouse. If convicted, he could receive the death penalty.
Smith said she hasn’t used drugs since walking out of her apartment on March 12. She said she did not volunteer information about the drugs at first, but later came forward and shared it with the proper authorities, and that she regrets not doing so from the beginning.
“I remember what Jesus said, ‘The truth shall set you free,'” she wrote. “That’s how I want to live my life. I want to be an honest person and experience the freedom that goes with it.”
Smith said she continues to try to stay clean of drugs. She doesn’t go to recovery now, because of publicity, but wants to share her story of addiction and recovery as soon as she can.
She said she prays regularly with her pastor, Chuck Gordon, who was youth pastor at the Church at Greenbrier, a Southern Baptist church in Augusta, Ga., where she grew up, and takes part in a women’s Bible study.
She said the $70,000 she has received in rewards and money for writing the book have for the first time given her the financial stability she needs to raise her daughter. Financial details of the book have not been made public, but Smith said she plans to donate some of the proceeds to a memorial fund for the victims.
Sales of Warren’s book surged after Smith first told her story at a televised press conference this spring. The Purpose Driven Life, a former No. 1 bestseller, has reportedly sold more than 30 million copies worldwide since coming out in October 2002.
While she and Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., had spoken, they hadn’t met face-to-face before appearing together on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” on Wednesday.
“There are two great stories in Ashley’s life,” Warren said, according to a quote on Oprah’s Web site.
“One of them is you don’t have to be perfect to be used by God. If God only used perfect people, nothing would get done because none of us are perfect. God uses us in spite of our faults, our mistakes, our weaknesses.… The bottom line is God will use anybody if you’re available. That’s the key. She happened to be available and she responded in love instead of fear as we just heard in her story.
“I think the other thing is that no matter how bad your problems are, God’s purpose is bigger. And we see this in her life–that God had a purpose that she didn’t know, that was so much bigger than the problems she was going through, and even the problems Brian was going through.”
Warren and Smith are scheduled to appear together again Oct. 5 on “Larry King Live.” Other interviews scheduled with Smith include a two-part interview on “Good Morning America” with Diane Sawyer airing Sept. 30 and Oct. 3, ABC’s “20/20” on Sept. 30. CBS’ “The Early Show” on Oct. 5, CNN’s “American Morning” and FOXNews’ “Hannity & Colmes” on Oct. 4, and “The View” on Oct. 17.
Smith said she picked up her copy of The Purpose Driven Life a month before her March ordeal at her aunt’s church, which met in a school auditorium in Augusta. The church was beginning a study of Warren’s book, and the pastor invited anyone to pick up a copy, even if they didn’t have any money. Smith paid for her copy by dropping a dollar bill in the offering plate, which she had earlier rolled up and used to “snort some ice.”
At one point Nichols asked her is she was a born-again Christian. She said she asked Jesus into her heart when she was 7 but drifted away from God and started using drugs.
Nichols said he also was born again, but he felt like he had a demon inside him. “It’s spiritual warfare,” he told Smith. “I feel like God and Satan are fighting–fighting to take me. One or the other.”
At one point in their conversation, Smith says, it started to dawn on her that God might have a purpose in Nichols being there. “There was no other way to explain it,” she writes. “God knew I would be here in this apartment. He knew I would be walking out for cigarettes at 2 a.m. He knew Brian Nichols would be pulling up when I left. He knew it all, and he was in control right now.”
She said she asked Nichols how he could explain the “miracle” that he ended up alive in her apartment.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “I mean, maybe you’re an angel sent from God. Maybe that’s what this is. Maybe he led me right to you.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.