ATLANTA – The woman who said she gained the trust of suspected courthouse gunman Brian Nichols (search) by talking about her faith while he held her hostage was presented with $70,000 in reward money Thursday for helping authorities capture him.
Ashley Smith (search), a 26-year-old widowed mother of one, was held for seven hours by Nichols at her suburban Atlanta home March 12 before he let her go. She then made the 911 call that led to his arrest.
"My life is testimony that God can use us even in the midst of tragedy and miracles do happen," she said.
She was lauded at a ceremony during which she received a fistful of reward checks from Gov. Sonny Perdue and law enforcement agencies.
Thomas Smith, head of the state sheriffs association, saluted her for "your courage, your strength and your perseverance."
The woman has said she spoke with Nichols for hours about her daughter, her husband's stabbing deaths years ago and her faith in God. She said she told Nichols that he might be destined to be caught so he could spread the word of God to fellow prisoners.
In all, she received $25,000 from the U.S. Marshals Office, $20,000 from the FBI, $10,000 from Perdue's office, $5,000 from the Georgia Sheriffs' Association, $5,000 from the Georgia Fraternal Order of Police and $5,000 from the city of Atlanta. She previously received $2,500 from the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police.
Nichols is accused of overpowering a courthouse deputy March 11, taking her gun from a lockbox and fatally shooting Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes (search) and his court reporter, Julie Brandau, on the day Barnes was to resume Nichols' rape trial.
Nichols also is accused of killing a sheriff's deputy outside the courthouse and a federal agent while he was on the run. He surrendered after a 26-hour manhunt.
Smith's grandfather, Dick Machovec, said the family planned to hire a financial adviser to help Smith manage the money.
"Hopefully, it's going to be used for education, it's going to be used to pay off some loans, it's going to be used to give a portion of it to the Lord," he said.