An Act of Faith
Angela Montez, a mother and grandmother, was working when 23-year-old Greg Smith entered the store, climbed over the counter and stuck a gun in her face. "I think he knew where the [panic] button was because he had me move away right away," she said in a 911 call. "He kept the gun pointed at me until he came around across the counter."
Angela says that when she started to cry, the situation took a surprising turn. She says she told the gunman not to throw away his life and then began to pray. In an unexpected twist of fate, the gunman then dropped to his knees and prayed with her for 10 minutes. The unlikely pair even hugged. He then fled the store.
Angela says Greg could have taken anything he wanted, but something held him back. "He said, 'I have to do this,'" she says. "I said: 'No, you don't have to do this. Nothing can be bad enough for you to lower yourself to something so bad.'"
Angela says Greg told her was out of work and on the verge of becoming homeless. "I [saw] some tears come in his eyes, and my heart just broke for him," she says. "I just looked at him like: 'Why is this young man throwing life away? Life is so precious.'"
Terrified, Angela says Greg asked her to calm down and then put the gun in his pocket. "He fell to his knees and started rocking and crying. And he's like, 'Pray with me,'" she says. "I reached down and I touched him. I was like: 'Jesus, please touch him. Let him know he's a good person. He should never lower himself to this.'"
During the prayer, Greg took the bullet out of the gun and handed it to Angela. "I took it," she says. "And he said, 'No one's ever talked with me like this.'"
Out of work, Greg now says he turned to crime out of desperation to provide for his girlfriendand 2-year-old daughter. "I just didn't want to see my family out on the street. I hadn't had a job in a year or more, and I got tired of seeing my girlfriend struggling and crying all the time and me feeling like lesser of a man because I can't provide for my family," he says. "I'm not condoning it, but that's why I got to that point and like I said, I regret it."
Greg says he never planned on hurting Angela and left the money alone once he saw how frightened Angela was. "Seeing her like that, it just brought me back to reality, and I just didn't feel like I could go through with it."
Meeting Angela, he says, was a moment of divine intervention. "No one has ever talked to me the way that she did. ... She made me feel comfortable, and something just made me open up to her," he says. "I felt honestly something that I had never felt before at that moment. Honestly, I don't even think it was Miss Angela talking to me. I actually think it was the man upstairs talking to me through Angela."
Donna says she jumped in the car still wearing her pajamas and drove to her son's house to convince him to do the right thing.
"Once I got there, he was sitting on the stairs, bawling and crying and apologizing," Donna says. "I just hugged him and told him: 'You need to turn yourself in, because they're considering you as an armed robber. I don't want them to come here and something bad happens.'"
Before that night, Donna says she knew her son was depressed and, at one time, suicidal, but she never imagined this outcome. Donna says Greg's inability to find a job and support his family may have made him feel like less of a man, but that doesn't justify criminal behavior. "There's no excuse," she says.
"Nobody would tell me anything over the phone. So my stepsister called, and she was like, 'Get on the Internet.' And I'm like, 'For what?' She's like, 'Greg's on the Internet,'" Sherrie says. "And I looked at Gregory and I was like, 'Gregory, what did you do?'"
After learning the truth, Sherrie says all she could do was cry. "I started throwing up because I couldn't believe he would do something like that," she says. "I don't understand. He was trying to help us, but that wasn't the way to do it."
Sherrie says she never thought Greg was capable of such a crime, but now she takes some of the blame for what happened. "I've been paying all the bills by myself and trying to take care of me and my daughter," she says. "I partially blame myself for constantly fussing at him, telling him what he's not good for and stuff like that."
Though he may go to jail for many years, Greg says he's learned an important lesson from his crimes and Angela's intervention.
"I've always been a firm believer in God and Christ, but I've never walked that walk," he says. "I felt like, for the longest time, I was in control of everything. Everything was supposed to go my way. ... A lot of the things I did have before I got into the situation I'm in now, I took for granted. And I lost it."
Greg says he wants to apologize to Angela. "This is the first time I'm able to apologize to her actually and talk directly to her, and I'm sorry, Miss Angela," he says.
Angela accepts and hopes he'll help others. "That is remorse. He has a good heart and good love," she says. "There are people in there in jail you can speak with that are feeling just like you. Talk with them. You can help someone."