The Atlanta Killer and His Savior

Being Catholic, I’m not big on deistic revelations.  (Ironic that the parish I grew up in was The Epiphany, huh?)  Still, I admit that the story of the Atlanta courthouse shooter has touched me.

Until today, I was more interested in the Wisconsin church shooting. 

Then something happened. 

About 11:30 I went out to smoke.  I walked to my car, where I leave my cigarettes, and turned on the aux to listen to Rush.  A caller said that the woman who talked the Atlanta killer into surrendering seemed a bit smitten by the guy.  Rush politely corrected him, admonishing everyone to read the book the woman (link to Michelle Malkin) read to the killer:  The Purpose Driven Life. 

I started my car, drove across the street to Borders, walked in, and bought the book and the companion journal. 

At lunch, I sat in my car and read the Introduction and the first chapter.  Then I re-read the first chapter.  Then I read it again.  Then I went straight to my office and filled out the journal for day one of the 40 day challenge. 

Since most readers don’t know me, I’m a very poor Christian and a poorer Catholic.  I know this.  That’s why I try not to preach.  You might as well take financial advice from me as religious instruction.  (My money situation ain’t so great, either.)  I read a lot of C. S. Lewis and G. K Chesterton, in part because I prefer English written by Englishmen and in part because I like writers who have initials instead of first names.  I believe that all freedom comes from God in that He created us free to bind ourselves to Him.  How free we feel is directly proportional to the amount of freedom we surrender to God.  (I have surrendered very little freedom to God, so I’m usually feeling pretty bound up.)

05314104244_051405_atlantahostageWhen I read the first chapter of The Purpose Driven Life, I shook.  I physically shook.  Sitting in my car, I shook. 

I don’t know why.

I started walking to my door, and I felt really you know scared. And he was right there. I started to scream, and he put a gun to my side and he said, "Don't scream. If you don't scream I won't hurt you. ... He told me to go into the bathroom, so I went to the bathroom. And he followed into the bathroom and he said, "Do you know who I am?" and I said no because he had a hat on.

Ashley Smith, the Herculean woman who spent a day with a hardened killer, was on day 38 of the journey I began today.

And then he he took his hat off, and he said, "Now do you know who I am?" And I said, "Yeah, I know who you are. Please don't hurt, just please don't hurt me. I have a 5-year-old little girl. Please don't hurt me."

Somehow, her faith sustained her through this ordeal.

He said, "I'm not going hurt you if you just do what I say." I said, "All right." So I got -- he told me to get into the bathtub, so I got in the bathtub. And he said, "I really don't feel comfortable around here. I'm going to walk around your house for a few minutes just so I get the feel of it."

I said, "OK."

I wonder if my faith would.  When my daughter died in 1994, I was a better person. I was stronger.  My faith sustained me—with a lot of help from Jameson Irish Whiskey and C. S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed—the best death and dying book ever written.

He said, "I don't want to hurt you. I don't want to hurt anybody else, so please don't do anything that's going to hurt you." He said, "You know, somebody could have heard your scream already. And if they did, the police are on the way. And I'm going to have to hold you hostage. And I'm going to have to kill you and probably myself and lots of other people. And I don't want that."

I never stopped believing in God, but some people who knew Amie did.  They couldn’t understand how a wonderful seven-year-old girl could die if a God watched over us.

And I said, "OK. I will do what you say."

He looked around my house for a few minutes. I heard him opening up drawers and just going through my stuff. And he came back in. And he said, "I want to relax. And I don't feel comfortable with you right now. So I'm going to have to tie you up."

He brought some masking tape and an extension cord and a curtain in there. And I kind of thought he was going to strangle me. I was -- I was really kind of scared.

But he told me to turn around and put my hands behind my back. And he wrapped my hands in a prayer -- in a praying position, so I did that. And he wrapped masking tape around my hands.

And then he told me to go into my bedroom. And I sat down on the bed like he asked. And he wrapped my legs with masking tape and an extension cord. He also took a curtain and put it around my stomach. And he asked me if I could get up. And I got up.

He said, "Can you walk?"

And I said, "No."

Some time between 1995, when I began recovering from her death, and 2001, I strayed really far away from the faith that sustained me in the months after her little casket—smaller than any casket should ever be—descended into the earth at Resurrection Cemetery on MacKenzie Road.  (Amie’s mother and I are divorced, and she has another daughter now.  I sometimes wonder if that little girl’s name, MacKenzie, wasn’t inspired by the street on which her half-sister is buried.)

And so he picked me up and took me to the bathroom. And he put me on a stool that I have in my bathroom. He said he wanted to take a shower.

So I said, "OK. You take a shower."

He said, "Well, I'm going to put a towel over your head so you don't have to watch me take a shower."

So I said, "OK. All right."

I thought I could tackle the world on my own.  Somehow, surviving a child’s tragic drowning death with only a divorce as a scar made me feel invulnerable. 

But I wasn’t.

He came into my apartment telling me that he was a soldier. And that people -- that his people needed him for a job to do. And he was doing it.

And -- I didn't want him to hurt anybody else. He didn't want to hurt anybody else. He just told me that he wanted a place to stay to relax, to sit down and watch TV, to eat some real food.

I talked to him about my family. I told him about things that had happened in my life. I asked him about his family. I asked him why he did what he did.

And his reason was because he was a soldier.

You might blame my pride on mere hubris, but I had just spent 10 years in the submarine force. Not tough duty compared what the folks in Iraq are going through, I promise you, but tougher duty than most civilians will ever experience.  Even if they grew up in really tough circumstances.  That I promise you, too.

I asked him why he chose me and why he chose Bridgewater Apartments. And he said he didn't know, just randomly.

But after we began to talk, he said he thought that I was an angel sent from God. And that I was his sister and he was my brother in Christ. And that he was lost and God led him right to me to tell him that he had hurt a lot of people. And the families -- the people -- to let him know how they felt, because I had gone through it myself.

He told me that he didn't -- he didn't want to hurt the agent that he hurt. He begged and pleaded with him to do things his way, and he didn't. So he had to kill him.

He said that he didn't shoot the deputy, that he hit her. And that he hoped she lived.

All along, though, I’ve know I was living too much for myself.  I denied God by denying my fellow man—God’s other wonderful creations.

He showed me a picture of the -- the agent that he did kill. And I tried to explain to him that he killed a 40-year-old man that was probably a father, a husband, a friend.

And he really began to trust me, to feel my feelings. He looked at pictures of my family. He asked me to -- if he could look at them and hold them ...

I really didn't keep track of time too much because I was really worried about just living. I didn't want to die. I didn't want him to hurt anybody else. And I really didn't want him to hurt himself or anyone else to hurt him. He's done enough -- he had done enough. And he really, honestly when I looked at him, he looked like he didn't want to do it anymore.

He asked me what I thought he should do.

God revealed Himself powerfully twice:  once when He took my daughter, and once when He introduced my wife, Angela.  To quote a line from a play I did long ago, “I’ve never seen the hand of God so clearly in anything.”  (Man For All Seasons)

And I said, "I think you should turn yourself in. If you don't turn yourself in," this is what I said, "If you don't turn yourself in, lots more people are going to get hurt. And you're probably going to die."

And he said, "I don't want that to happen."

He said, "Can I stay here for a few days? I just want to eat some real food and watch some TV and sleep and just do normal things that normal people do."

So, of course, I said, "Sure. You can stay here." I didn't want -- I wanted to gain his trust.

Most of my time was spent talking to this man about my life and experiences in my life, things that had happened to me.

He needed hope for his life. He told me that he was already dead. He said, "Look at me, look at my eyes. I am already dead."

And I said, "You are not dead. You are standing right in front of me. If you want to die, you can. It's your choice."

I hope I become a better person.  I pray I do.  I pray you do, too, even if I don’t.

But after I started to read to him, he saw -- I guess he saw my faith and what I really believed in. And I told him I was a child of God and that I wanted to do God's will. I guess he began to want to. That's what I think.

He got to know me. I got to know him. He talked about his family. How -- he was wondering what they were thinking. He said, "They're probably -- don't know what to think."

We watched the news. He looked at the TV and he just said, "I cannot believe that's me on there."

About 5:36 -- well, 6, 6:30, he said, "I need to make a move." And I said, "A move?" He said, "I need to get rid of this car before daylight, this truck [the agent's]." I said, "OK."

Ashley Smith’s story is remarkable.  It’s a  miracle.  God brought two people together, creating a kind of perfection that we really can’t understand anymore than we can understand a rainbow.  Sure, there’s science to explain it.  But science never really explains anything, does it?  Codification and explanation are different.

I understand why the boy who called Rush thought Ashley Smith was in love with him or lusted for him.  The perfect union isn’t always the perfect groom and the perfect bride.  When the odd couple comes together in perfection, it looks to us like a beautiful wedding—even when it’s a hostage and a killer. 

I basically said, keep the money. And he said, "No, I don't need it." He asked me if there was anything I could do -- or he could do for me before I left, or while I was going. He says, "Is there anything I can do while you're gone?"

I know he was probably hoping deep down that I was going to come back, but I think he knew that I was going to -- what I had to do, and I had to turn him in, and I gave him -- I asked him several times, you know, "Come on, just go with me." He said, "I'll go with you in a few days."

But when he asked me, "Is there anything I can do while you're gone, like hang your curtains or something?" And I said, "Yeah, if you want to."

He just wanted some normalness to his life right then. He -- I think he realized all this -- all this that I've been through, this is not me. I don't know, that's my opinion of what he ...

Then I left my house at 9:30. And I got in the car. And I immediately called 911. I told them that he was there, and she asked me where I was. I said, "Oh, I'm on my way to see my daughter." I felt glad to just really be on my way to see my daughter. She said, "You've got to turn around and go to the leasing office." So that's what I did.

Thanks to Jeff Jarvis whose tiny blog entry gave me the courage to write this. 

BuzzMachine ... by Jeff Jarvis

The amazing woman who soothed the homicidal soul of the Atlanta judge-killer read him The Purpose-Driven Life. No surprise: The self-home tome is now No. 3 on Amazon.

Or maybe it was God.  Or Amie. 

Beltway Traffic Jam 

Echoes of Forever is a wonderful blog that you should read every day.  Thanks for the kind words. 

Wizbang has stills of ABC News acting like idiots.  There’s something new.

PS One of the best teachers I ever had, Sr. Barbara Schlatter, quietly spends her weekends ministering to prisoners.  A lot of folks in South St. Louis think that’s a waste of time.  But maybe it’s the best use of time there is.    You never stop learning from a good teacher. 

Another PS:  Much was made of the fact that Brian Nichols overpowered a much smaller female officer to start this whole nightmare.  More of that fact was made when his escort for his perp walk was 5’1” female.  But, in the end, it was a woman who overpowered him—intellectually, spiritually.  With love, respect, and courage, she overcame his fears and aggression.  Ashley Smith did what no man could do, and that poor female deputy failed when asked to do what a woman couldn’t.