10 years after Nichols: Ashley Smith Robinson said faith is stronger

To Ashley Smith Robinson, her ordeal with Brian Nichols was evidence that “God can use anybody” to get through to a struggling person, which she was 10 years ago.

But on the anniversary of Nichols’ escape from an Atlanta courthouse and murderous rampage, Robinson turned her thoughts to the other victims and their families.

“You know, I just don’t think about what happened to me in Atlanta,” Robinson, 36, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution from her home in North Augusta, S.C. “I think about what happened to everyone.”

Her heart goes out to Cynthia Hall, the Fulton County deputy who was overpowered and severely injured by Nichols as he was being led into a courtroom that morning to face rape charges.

Over the last few days, she has sent well-wishes to Claudia Barnes, the widow of Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes; and Candee Wilhelm, whose husband, David Wilhelm, a federal customs agent, was gunned down at his home in Buckhead hours later.

“I know what it’s like to miss that person, having gone through it with my (first) husband,” said Robinson. “I think about myself and where I was in life 10 years ago. I honestly should not be alive today, based on where I was in my life.”

Since then, the “hostage hero,” as she became known after she persuaded a killer to surrender, has been a much-sought-after speaker, a best-selling author, the subject of a soon-to-be released movie and, perhaps more importantly, a new mother.

In 2005, Robinson, a widowed mother of a young daughter, was outside the Bridgewater Apartments in Duluth when she was confronted by and forced back into her apartment by Nichols, who by then had already murdered four people. She was held hostage for seven hours.

But Robinson was struggling with her own demons. She had been in and out of rehab. In fact, she gave Nichols methamphetamine to snort. She finally persuaded him to surrender and thereby became a national hero.

Since then, it’s been a decade of the worst and best that life threw her way.

Robinson lost her mother, Mary Jo Croft, to cancer about seven years ago — ironically just before the anniversary of the day Robinson was held hostage by Nichols, “so the time is emotional.”

In June 2007, she married Daniel Robinson, an electrician.

They recently moved into a new home in North Augusta with their three children — Paige, 15; Riley, 13 (Daniel Robinson’s daughter from another relationship); and Cole, 3 1/2 years old.

Her aunt, Kim Rogers, who once had custody of Robinson’s daughter, Paige, has witnessed the profound change.

“The amazing part about it is that she changed that day,” Rogers said. “She made a conscious decision that she was going to stay away from drugs, that she was going to follow God and she stuck with it, despite the naysayers.”

People at the Augusta hospital where she works as an imaging technician in the emergency department will sometimes do a double take or catch a glimpse of her name badge and realize who she is.

Robinson, who has traveled the country speaking to churches and groups, penned a best-selling book about her life, “Unlikely Angel: The Untold Story of the Atlanta Hostage Hero.”

A film about her life and the hostage ordeal will be released later this year. “Captive” will star Kate Mara, from “House of Cards,” as Robinson and David Oyelowo, who won praise for his portrayal of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in “Selma,” as Nichols.

Some people believed Robinson and Nichols knew each other previously. Why, they reasoned, would he show up at her door, so far away from the Atlanta courthouse?

But her aunt said that’s simply not true. She checked phone records, and there was no contact between her niece and Nichols.

After the crisis ended, Robinson left Atlanta to live with Rogers and her husband, Steve. Her aunt made her take drug tests regularly. They always came back clean.

“I feel it’s possible that God took possession of Brian Nichols’ body and said this is your last chance,” Robinson said, adding that she has not had any contact with Nichols.

She and Nichols’ mother once spoke by phone for about 20 or 30 minutes, she said. Nichols’ mother thanked her for treating her son with decency. Robinson said she is thankful to Nichols for allowing her to live and that she still prays for him.

“I have issues but I know that God loves me and still used me every day to make a difference,” she said. “I feel God has given me a story to tell.”