NASHVILLE (BP) – Frank S. Page recalls the moment 10 years ago when he learned the single mother held captive in her Atlanta-area home by an accused murderer and rapist was the same Ashley Smith he had baptized when she was 12 years old.
National attention focused on news reports of the manhunt for Brian Nichols, who killed a judge and three others in his escape from an Atlanta courthouse while accused of rape. As the story unfolded on live news coverage, it became clear Nichols had taken refuge in an Atlanta-area home with a single hostage, who happened to be Smith.
During a night-long ordeal, Smith had convinced Nichols to surrender to authorities by reading to him from the Rick Warren bestseller “Purpose Driven Life.” Page, then pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., received a call from Kim Rogers, Smith’s aunt. Page had ministered to the family during his 10 years as pastor of Warren Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga., nearly five years before the hostage incident.
“She said that was Ashley that was kidnapped and got him, talked him into releasing himself. I said excuse me. Ashley, our Ashley?” Page told Baptist Press. “I was in contact with the family and Ashley throughout the whole experience. Her aunt and her uncle (Steve Rogers) are some of our dearest lifelong friends.”
Now president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, Page was invited to a screening of the new Paramount movie “Captive,” which tells the ordeal of Smith, then a struggling single mother addicted to methamphetamine, held hostage by Nichols in her own Duluth, Ga., apartment.
“It’s a real-life story of a young single mother. Her husband was killed by a drug dealer … horrible. It’s a story of redemption because she was getting her life straight, and did, praise God,” Page told BP. “God was able to use her addiction to minister to Brian Nichols. I’m not saying that it was good that she was addicted. I’m just simply saying God used the bad to bring glory to Him. And she saw that, and she knew that, and she was just giving glory to the Lord.”
David Oyelowo, nominated for a Golden Globe Award for his portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr. in the 2015 Paramount movie “Selma,” portrays Nichols in Captive, joined by “House of Cards” star Kate Mara as Smith. The film is scheduled for release in September, 2015.
Page describes Smith as a “precious” girl who has endured troubles well portrayed in the film.
“This is something that some readers will never understand, or listeners. She was at a rough point in life and she had lived a rough life. Someone who’s raised in a pristine environment probably could not have handled the situation like Ashley did,” Page said of Smith’s encounter with Nichols. “Part of her having been in a rough family environment … really prepared her for this situation in a unique way. Most people could not have handled that; it would have just sent them over the edge. Well, she was used to rough life.”
Smith has recounted the ordeal on numerous talk shows, in churches and other venues, and in the 2010 book with Stacy Mattingly, “Unlikely Angel: The Untold Story of the Atlanta Hostage Hero.” In a September 2009 interview on the Canadian talk show “Full Circle,” she said the book is meant to minister to others.
“I was raised in a Christian home, and I went to a Christian school. I was an athlete and I was – at one point in time – I had a very structured life. And then I got introduced to things of the world and I became a ‘partier,’ and so I wanted people to understand that yes, I know many aspects, and I even know the drug life,” she said. “And for that one person that was on the streets, that picks up my book … in my book they’ll read certain things and they’ll go, ‘Oh my yes, she does know what I’m [going through].’”
Page sees ministerial value in the movie as well.
“I think [viewers] can learn the power of God using ordinary people, how God puts things together in miraculous ways in our ordinary lives,” Page said. “She could not believe what had happened. He was a convicted rapist … and he had kind of an odd respect for her. … It was just unbelievable that he showed some modicum of respect for her, and care really for her during this nighttime, long nighttime kidnapping experience.”
Smith believes the entire experience was a God ordained instrument to deliver her from drug addiction.
“There was an enormous spiritual warfare going on with me,” Smith said in the 2009 interview. “God knew what it was going to take to change me forever, and He gave me everything I needed that night, and in it he gave me the ability to trust Him completely. … I was able to look at Brian Nichols and go, ‘He’s loved by God too.’”
As she read to Nichols The Purpose-Driven Life, she said, “there just was a sense of peace and he began to react to the passage I was reading. He asked me what I thought he should do and I said I thought he should turn himself in. … He let me go see my little girl, and that was the end of all of it.”