In the end, Brian Nichols surrendered peacefully, but not before he terrorized the Metro Atlanta area with a killing spree that started in a Fulton County Courthouse and touched off the largest manhunt in Georgia history. He evaded capture for 26 hours, beating or shooting anyone who got in his way, until he crossed paths with a brave young single-mom with a purpose.
Ashley Smith, the 26-year-old hostage who notified police that the Atlanta Courthouse Killer wanted to turn himself in, read to Brian Nichols from "The Purpose Driven Life," shared her personal faith, read with him the Bible and prayed for more than seven hours in her one-bedroom, Duluth, Georgia apartment.
Nichols eventually told Smith he believed she was an angel that God sent him to show him the pain he had caused others.
"He said I was his sister and he was my brother in Christ. That he was lost and God had lead him right to me," Smith said. "I believe God brought him to my door so he wouldn't hurt anyone else."
Smith said she at first feared that Nichols was going to kill her also, but after hours of talking and praying with him, he was a different person than the man who stuck a gun in her side, forced his way into her apartment and tied her up.
"I figured I was either going to die or not," Smith said. "So before I died, I was going to let him know that he was not capable of 'killing' me. All he could do was send me home."
After he began to trust her, and untied her, she asked him if she could read. She read aloud the first paragraph from Chapter 33 from the book "The Purpose Driven Life" and Nichols asked her to stop and re-read it to him.
The passage opened the door for Smith to begin talking to Nichols about her faith and her personal experiences, including seeing her husband die in her arms four years ago after being stabbed in a fight in Augusta.
Talked About Victims' FamiliesNichols said he felt like he was dead. "Look into my eyes, I'm already dead." But Smith told him the fact that he was still alive was a miracle. "You're standing in front of me for a purpose. It may be that your purpose is to get caught and go to prison and share the Word of God with the other prisoners there."
She looked into the eyes of a mass murderer and told him it would take "more of a man" to give up and take responsibility for his actions, than it would to go out in a blaze of gunfire, causing more harm to himself and others.
She offered to go with him to turn himself in. "Come on, go with me," she asked him several times. He said he would, eventually.
She said she did not want her five-year-old daughter to grow up without a parent. She said she was supposed to meet her daughter Saturday morning at 10 a.m. at Hebron Baptist Church in Dacula, Georgia. "She's expecting to see me," she said. "She's already been through a lot in her life."
At first, Nichols said she could not leave, but as the hours passed and they continued to talk -- about their families, the families of his victims and about God -- he changed his mind. He repented.
Nichols allowed her to leave the apartment at 9:30 a.m. She immediately called 911 and told the Gwinnett County police that Nichols was in her apartment and wanted to turn himself in.
Smith had an opportunity to call police earlier when Nichols asked her to follow him while he hid the pickup truck he took from U.S. Customs Agent David Wilhelm, who he shot and killed earlier.
An Angel That God Led Me ToSmith decided not to call police even though she had the opportunity, because she believed it would result in more people being placed in danger. She had 9-1-1 punched into her cell phone, but she did not hit the "Send" button. Instead, she followed him two miles to dump the pickup.
"Wow, you didn't drive off," Nichols told her. "I thought you were going to."
She drove him back to her apartment and cooked him blueberry pancakes, with real butter.
"He was overwhelmed," she said.
After breakfast, he not only allowed her to leave to see her daughter, he gave her $40 and asked her if there was anything he could do to help her -- like hang curtains in her new apartment -- while she was away.
When the police arrived, he went like a lamb. And, in the eyes of Ashley Smith, like a man.
Smith believes Nichols knew she was going to call the police. As she left the apartment, Nichols asked her to come visit him in jail. "You're an angel that God led me to," he tells her. "I want to talk to you again. Will you come see me?"
She told him she would.