Sensing she had established a rapport with Nichols, Ashley says she began to feel more confident that her life would be spared. She even helped Nichols get rid of the stolen pickup truck. Despite being in separate cars at one point, Ashley chose not to call police.
"I thought of every scenario possible," explains Ashley. "If I were to call the police, then he could drive off … I knew pretty much by the way he was treating me that he was going to let me go. Or, in my head I was getting out of that house no matter what. So I knew that once the truck was gone, if I could just get him back to my apartment, he would be left in the apartment alone."
When Ashley and Nichols returned to her apartment, she made pancakes for them to eat. "I was hungry at the time. … He asked for permission to do things. And [I thought,] 'You know what? If he wanted to kill me, he could have done it long ago.' … I had to begin to trust him a little bit."
All night long, Ashley told Brian Nichols that she needed to leave in the morning to see her daughter and to go to work, otherwise people would get suspicious. When morning rolled around, Brian Nichols did in fact let her leave. This time, Ashley called 911. Nichols surrendered to police unarmed, waving a white T-shirt in the air.
Brian Nichols is now awaiting trial and is charged with murder, kidnapping, and escape. He faces the death penalty if convicted, but has pled not guilty.
At one point in her ordeal, Ashley says she read passages from The Purpose Driven Life by pastor Rick Warren aloud to Brian Nichols. Ashley has credited The Purpose Driven Life for helping her survive. Rick and Ashley have spoken before, but they'd never met face-to-face…until now.
"There are two great stories in Ashley's life," Rick says. "One of them is you don't have to be perfect to be used by God. If God only used perfect people, nothing would get done because none of us are perfect. God uses us in spite of our faults, our mistakes, our weaknesses. … The bottom line is God will use anybody if you're available. That's the key. She happened to be available and she responded in love instead of fear as we just heard in her story. I think the other thing is that no matter how bad your problems are, God's purpose is bigger. And we see this in her life, that God had a purpose that she didn't know, that was so much bigger than the problems she was going through, and even the problems Brian was going through."
Though Ashley says she told Nichols that she would visit him in prison, she now says it's unlikely that will happen. "I don't feel led to do that right now," she says. "I think that my purpose and my time with Brian Nichols was that seven hours."
One warm spring day, Jennifer was buckling her 21-month-old son and 9-month-old daughter into their stroller for a walk. All of a sudden a man appeared. His name was Matthew Charles Gibson, a violent sex offender who had just escaped from jail after being arrested for raping a 15-year-old girl. He was covered in cuts and soaking wet after crawling over a razor wire fence and crossing a river. Jennifer says Gibson asked if her husband was home. Startled, she said no, and he asked to go inside her home so she could clean the blood off of him. Terrified, Jennifer brought her children inside and washed the blood off Gibson. Next he demanded clean clothes and when Jennifer went to the closet, he began choking her.
"I started to feel like I was going to pass out," Jennifer says. "I thought, 'This is it.' And I just kept looking into his eyes and thinking that I'm dead now. As my body started to go limp, he let me go. Then I was hysterical…begging and pleading for my life, begging and pleading for my children's lives." Gibson then dragged Jennifer into the kitchen where he held a butcher knife to her throat and her son's throat. He then dragged her into the bedroom and sexually assaulted her.
Then, Jennifer says, "A peace came over me. A calm came over me. I started to remember an Oprah Show
that I had seen a few months earlier about a lady who got away from her attacker. There was a checklist.
And I could see that checklist in my mind of the different things that you need to do to get away from your kidnapper."
After she was raped, Gibson forced Jennifer and her children into a car. But Jennifer, using the advice she saw on The Oprah Show, appealed to him to let her leave the children in the house. "It was the hardest thing I could ever do," Jennifer says. "But I knew that they would be better off without me bringing them with us. I just wanted to get them away from him, and him away from them."
Once she and Gibson were in the car, she asked him to put on his seatbelt, which he did. "I had already had in my head that I was going to jump from the car," she says. "And I thought maybe he would struggle to grab me and to keep me in the car if he had the lap belt across him."
Jennifer says she passed the police station and several other businesses, but couldn't jump from the car because of oncoming traffic. "I didn't want to have an accident," Jennifer says. "I didn't want to hurt anybody else."
Finally, as they were approaching a gas station she decided it was time to jump from the car. "I slowly unbuckled my seatbelt and tried to be as quiet as I could," she says. "[Gibson] saw me and he said, 'Fine, jump! Jump! Just jump!' And I did. … [The car] ran over my shoulder and my hip…and I got up and ran as hard I could to that gas station. When I was in the gas station, I turned around and looked at him and he was running outside of the car and dangling because his lap belt was across him and he couldn't get free."
After Jennifer jumped from the car, it collided with a pole and police immediately caught Gibson. He pled guilty to sexual abuse and escape, and was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Oprah: How do you go on? Do you continuously live in fear? Are you always looking over your shoulder?
Jennifer: For a while, absolutely, you have that fight or flight [reaction]. One thing that helped me through it is that night I thought, "What am I going to do with all this? What am I going to do with what's happened to me?" And I thought, "I don't want this to ever, ever happen to any other woman. Ever. So I'm going to pray for [Gibson] that he gets healed, that God heals him so he never does this to another woman again." I thought, "He's going to get out someday. Rapists don't go to jail for life." So I prayed for him. I prayed for him that night; I prayed for him every day that God would heal him and change his heart and make him be, someday, a good citizen. And through that, I learned to forgive—not forget, not dismiss—but to forgive him in a way and that helped heal me.
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