By her own account, Ashley Smith is far from an angel or a hero. Yet today, her face is known around the world as the single mother who persuaded Brian Nichols, Atlanta’s courtroom killer, to surrender to police. Nichols called Ashley “an angel sent from God, but, ironically, it was Ashley’s less-than-angelic past that allowed her to convince him to face justice.
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Elizabeth Ashley Copeland Smith was born August 1, 1978 in Augusta, Georgia, surrounded by a God-fearing, sports-loving family. Her parents divorced when she was a toddler, and she spent much of her early years in the company of her mother’s extended family - especially her grandfather and aunt, who both worked at Augusta Christian, the private school Ashley attended through 8th grade.
At an early age she took up with, Mack Smith, and became pregnant less than a year into the relationship. The couple married just two months before baby Paige was born prematurely, weighing less than 3 lbs. It was a volatile marriage, but Ashley was determined to keep her family together. Things were beginning to settle down when Mack ran into his old gang, exchanged ugly words and was fatally stabbed by people he once called friends.
Following Mack’s murder, Ashley willingly gave her Aunt Kim temporary custody of Paige, who was now a healthy three-and-a-half year old. She wanted to be a mother to her daughter, but her addiction to methamphetamines kept pulling her farther away from her dreams. God kept calling, but Ashley always put Him on hold while she flirted with temptation. All of that changed dramatically on March 11, 2005, when Brian Nichols forced his way into her apartment following his deadly rampage at Atlanta’s Fulton County Courthouse. He asked for marijuana. Before thinking it through, she offered him her remaining stash of meth- the thing that had dragged her life down. Several miracles followed, which allowed her to talk to Nichols about God’s purpose for their meeting.
Among her few possessions was a copy of Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life.” She was on chapter 32—“Using What God Gave You.” During her seven hours as Nichols’ hostage, she read from this chapter and encouraged him to consider how he might be able to serve God if he surrendered, which he did the following morning.
Ashley believes that God led her through her dark hours with Nichols, and has called her to use the highly publicized experience to help unlikely angels everywhere find hope.
Today, Ashley is back in active worship at The Church at Greenbrier, attends weekly Bible study, and is living with her daughter Paige. She has returned to the familiar embrace of her extended, sports-loving family and has embarked on a tour to promote “Unlikely Angel-The Untold Story of Atlanta’s Hostage Hero,” which debuted at #15 on the New York Times Bestseller List. According to her wishes, some of the proceeds from the book will be donated to a memorial fund that will honor the victims of the courthouse tragedy.
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