Sunday, March 20, 2005

"We Just Talked"

Unless you have been living in east Louisiana or west Texas with a TV on the fritz and the hound dogs under the weather you have heard by now the story of how the man in Atlanta who killed four people on a rampage which began in a courthouse was apprehended peacefully after spending seven hours with a woman named Ashley Smith. I had not heard the news on Monday evening when I was talking to my Mom on the phone but she peaked my curiosity with her breathless description of this “incredible, courageous, inspiring” woman, at which point I responded that, yes, I have been married to Angela for sixteen years and I know she’s awesome but what did that have to do with the situation in Atlanta?

Well, I eventually got it sorted out and began to look into things and sure enough, unless you live in south Oklahoma or north Texas with the TV broke from tornadoes and dust storms, you don’t need me to point out what an amazing story this is. Have you read the transcript or seen the video of Ms. Smith’s account to the police? What is so moving to me is how she didn’t say anything extraordinary or profound. In her words, “we just talked.” She told him about her daughter and her life. She asked him about his family. She asked him why he killed the four people. She told him that he needed to turn himself in and pay for his crimes. She read to him from “The Purpose Driven Life” and talked to him about God and her faith.

“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… 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 had done enough. And he really, honestly when I looked at him, he looked like he didn’t want to do it anymore.”

When she finally persuaded him to let her go to visit her daughter, she told him she was going to call the police. He let her go anyway. When the police came he surrendered peacefully.

Listen, we should be careful not to make sweeping assumptions or sappy generalizations: some people have been killed despite talking to their abductor. Many murderers plow right through pleas and prayers and mention of God and manifestation of faith and attempts to “just talk.” But it is hard not to feel that, in this encounter, what transpired was an experience of the redemptive power of grace, and that, as Ms. Smith said in recounting their conversation, “he thought that I was an angel sent from God… and that he was lost and God led him right to me to tell him that he had hurt a lot of people.”

I won’t argue with that. – Matt Soper


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