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PAULA ZAHN NOW

New York City Announces Possible Terror Threat to Subway System; Interview With Ashley Smith

Aired October 6, 2005 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.
Glad to have you all with us tonight. I want to start out with tonight's breaking news, the huge ramp-up of security here in New York because of a very specific threat that city's subway system may be attacked in the coming days. A well-placed U.S. military official tells CNN that intelligence about this threat is connected to a highly classified operation carried out against suspected al Qaeda operatives in Iraq.

Deborah Feyerick is following developments from right here in New York City tonight.

Deborah, what is the very latest?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, officials had this information for several days. However, they were very concerned, because of ongoing operations, that, if they released it too soon, it could jeopardize those operations.

However, several hours ago, they felt it was time to make it public.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FEYERICK (voice-over): Commuters headed into the subways concerned, but, on the whole, unfazed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody is going to still take the train, whether there's a bomb threat or no. It's like, what am I going to do? I just hope it's not my train.

FEYERICK: There are some 470 stations in this city. And as the evening rush got under way, people learned, any one of them could be a target.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Millions of people take the subways every day. They're not going to start walking.

FEYERICK: Police say it's the first specific threat ever against the New York City system, from the type of attack to its timing.

RAYMOND KELLY, NYPD COMMISSIONER: The New York City Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have received information which indicates that the city's subway system may be the target of a terrorist attack in the coming days. FEYERICK: There are also unique details, like the possible use of baby carriages to hide or carry a bomb.

KELLY: Because of the heightened concerns, the police department will be paying particular attention to briefcases, baby strollers, luggage and other containers.

FEYERICK: Details more powerful following successful attacks in Europe.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: As we have known since 9/11, and even more so since the Madrid and London attacks, our mass transit system is a potential terrorist target.

FEYERICK: Police say they will search more bags and flood the system with uniformed and undercover cops, commuters told to leave bags and baby carriages at home, to be on the alert, but not afraid.

BLOOMBERG: But, tonight I'm going to take the subway going uptown, and, tomorrow morning, I'm going to do what I always do, get on the train and go to work.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FEYERICK: Now, the threat originated overseas. It does not mention a specific subway station. Officials say there have been no arrests in Manhattan.

And there's no reason to believe that any of the terrorists are in the city. The head of the FBI in New York says it is possible that this threat will be resolved in a couple of days -- Paula.

ZAHN: Deborah Feyerick, people here will be quite relieved if that ends up being the case. Appreciate your update.

New Yorkers are taking no chances, however, but they have a surprisingly different approach to this story down in Washington.

Homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve is there.

So, Jeanne, are the feds and local folks here on two separate pages?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, tonight, they say they're on the same page, but, first, a couple of new nuggets about the intelligence.

Sources say that the information was developed specifically in Iraq, law enforcement officials telling CNN's Kelli Arena that the intelligence indicated operations were well under way to place explosives on New York's mass transit system using baby carriages and possibly briefcases and other kinds of bags.

Sources say the plot was said to involve a group of 15 to 20 people. Now, Department of Homeland Security officials say the specifics were shared several days ago with state and local officials in New York. But administration officials say analysts ultimately concluded that the information was of doubtful credibility because of additional intelligence developed overseas.

Because of doubts about the credibility of the threat information and a lack of corroboration, administration officials seemed somewhat surprised this afternoon that New York officials were having a press conference to publicly release it. Tonight, they say, there has been a good flow of information back and forth, and that they understand that local officials warned the public out of an abundance of caution.

But the Department of Homeland Security has no plans to modify the city's or the nation's threat level, a clear signal that they are not worked up over this threat -- Paula.

ZAHN: So, Jeanne, those of us that live in the city -- and you have got 4.5 million people commuting on the subways -- are scratching their heads tonight, saying, OK, so, what are we supposed to do with this information, because the feds are saying they couldn't corroborate it and they are questioning the credibility of it to begin in the first place?

(CROSSTALK)

MESERVE: I think you have to do exactly what Mayor Bloomberg said. Every individual has to evaluate it for themselves and decide what they're going to do. He made the decision he's going to travel on the subways.

ZAHN: Jeanne Meserve, thanks so much.

For me, let's go straight to senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre.

Jamie, we just heard Jeanne Meserve confirm some brand new things to us, that they now believe this plot might have involved anywhere from 15 to 20 people. It involved the use of potentially explosives and baby carriages or briefcases. What else have you learned?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, you heard Deborah Feyerick also say no arrests in New York, but apparently there have been some arrests, if you can call it that, in Iraq.

A senior military official tells CNN that, based on the information developed about the threat originally, an operation was carried out last night that involved the CIA, the FBI and, of course, U.S. military forces in a city about 30 miles south of Baghdad, where some al Qaeda operatives were rounded up, some intelligence was gathered. This was a highly classified operation that was launched as a result of the original intelligence suggesting that the New York City subway system was going to be the target of a terrorist attack.

That might explain why New York City officials are saying this situation could be resolved in several days. That may be based on determining whether or not the people rounded up were the ones responsible for the plot and whether, by capturing them, taking them into custody, whether that plot has essentially been thwarted.

It's -- we won't know for a while whether that's the case and it's not clear how much information will eventually be released, since the whole thing, as I said, was highly classified -- Paula.

ZAHN: So, Jamie, can we even confirm tonight whether this was a U.S. military raid or a CIA raid?

MCINTYRE: Well, we're told from sources that the CIA's information was used to locate the people, to identify who they were. But, obviously, you can't have any operation in Iraq of any scale without involving the U.S. military.

It might be, you know, a -- sort of an academic point, who was in the lead. The U.S. military would have to be involved in this kind of operation, whether or not they were the ones who initiated the action.

ZAHN: All right, Jamie McIntyre, thank you so much for that late-breaking information. We will have more for you as it becomes available throughout this hour.

Now I want to turn to my special interview with someone whose story astonished us all. I don't know what I would do if I faced what Ashley Smith faced. I don't know any of us would ever know unless we were confronted with that very specific situation ourselves, seven hours held captive by an accused rapist suspected of killing four people, seven hours with Brian Nichols holding her at gunpoint as she desperately prayed for a way to save herself.

When we first heard her story last March, it seemed miraculous and everyone hailed Smith as a hero. Well, now she's written a book called "Unlikely Angel." And there's much more to the story than we have heard before. She told me some amazing details of her challenge and some starling revelations about the personal demons she was battling at the same time.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): It was Friday, March 11, 9:30. Atlanta, Georgia, was thrown into a state of panic.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody off the sidewalk!

MYRON FREEMAN, FULTON COUNTY SHERIFF: Mr. Nichols is considered armed and extremely dangerous and should not be approached.

ZAHN: It began during a criminal trial. The defendant, Brian Nichols, stood accused of raping his ex-girlfriend. Sheriff's Deputy Cynthia Hall was escorting Nichols into the Fulton County courthouse. As the 51-year-old grandmother removed his handcuffs, police say Nichols overpowered her, beat her unconscious, and took her gun.

According to authorities, he then went to the courtroom where he was being tried and shot Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes and court reporter Julie Brandau. In escaping, Brian Nichols allegedly gunned down another man, Sheriff's Deputy Hoyt Teasley. Now wanted for three murders, in addition to rape charges, Nichols was at large.

VERNON KEENAN, GEORGIA BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: We don't know where he's at. All law enforcement has been searching all over downtown area and all over this state.

ZAHN: Fifteen miles away, across town, Ashley Smith, a 26-year- old widow and a mother of a 6-year-old little girl, was moving into a new apartment.

ASHLEY SMITH, FORMER HOSTAGE: I woke up about probably around 11:00 to my stepdad calling, saying, watch out for this man. He's killed three people in the courthouse. And I'm like, I'm sleeping. I have to work. I have been up all night unpacking my apartment.

ZAHN (on camera): So, you didn't really pay attention to the warning?

SMITH: No, I didn't. I did not.

ZAHN (voice-over): Smith was busy, a new apartment, a new job. She was trying to put her life back together after her husband was brutally murdered in 2001.

She was also trying to beat her addiction to methamphetamine and regain custody of her daughter Paige, who was living with Smith's aunt. While working the night shift at a local restaurant, she heard that Nichols might be in Alabama. So, she wasn't too worried about where he was when she left work that night.

SMITH: Me going home, I'm really taking it to heart, thinking, this guy was in Alabama by now, you know, and really thinking, well, they haven't found him yet. He can't be in this area.

ZAHN: But he was. Police thought Nichols had fled a parking lot near the courthouse in a green Honda. They wouldn't learn until later that he had in fact left on foot and caught a commuter train to the trendy Buckhead area, where he met his fourth victim, off-duty federal agent David Wilhelm. Police say Nichols shot and killed him and then stole his blue pickup truck.

His next stop, the parking lot of Smith's apartment complex. From the moment she saw him, Smith knew something wasn't right.

SMITH: I was very afraid. But I really didn't have anywhere else to go. And I tried to keep a good attitude about it, of maybe he's just -- maybe he's been here. He beeped the horn. He's waiting for somebody to come out, something like that.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN (on camera): But you were not associating this guy in the truck with Brian Nichols?

SMITH: No. No. ZAHN: Who was in the -- the target of a huge manhunt at that hour?

SMITH: No, not even when I got out the car. And as soon as I got out of my car, I heard his door close behind me. And I thought to myself, this is not good. So, I started almost running, walking very fast up to the door. And I says, as long as I can get in there and lock the door behind me, I will be fine.

I was hoping that he would just keep going to the left and go up the stairs. But, as I opened the door, turned around and he was right there with the gun. The thought still never crossed my mind that's who it was. I said -- I started to scream immediately and said, please don't hurt me; please don't hurt me.

ZAHN (voice-over): No one heard her screams.

(on camera): So, what did Brian Nichols say to you...

SMITH: He just said...

ZAHN: ... as you opened the door and you saw the gun?

SMITH: He said, shut up. Don't scream. If you don't scream, I won't hurt you.

ZAHN: He didn't attempt to cover your mouth or muffle your screams?

SMITH: Not really. He just told me to shut up, and I shut up.

ZAHN: Did you think you were dead at that point?

SMITH: I did. I could hear the gun go off in my head. I could just hear it ringing in my ears. And I just thought I was going to die.

Immediately, as he pulled me in the house and shut the door, I just started praying silently. I don't care what he does to me. God, whatever he does, I don't care. I can make it through. I have made it through a lot of other things in my life. If he doesn't kill me, I will still be able to see Paige. Just let me get out of here alive.

ZAHN: At what point did you realize the man who had forced his way into your apartment at gunpoint was Brian Nichols?

SMITH: A few minutes later, after he closed the door, locked it, and he said, walk to the bathroom. So, I walked to the bathroom and sat on the counter.

And he said, do you know who I am? I didn't know who he was. The man from the courthouse still didn't -- didn't cross my mind, until he said, have you been watching the news today, the whole Brian Nichols thing? And that's when I knew. And I thought, oh, my gosh.

ZAHN: Did you say anything? SMITH: And he took his hat off and he said, now do you know who I am? And I was like, yes. Just please don't hurt me. I have a little girl who doesn't have a father. And just please don't hurt me.

ZAHN (voice-over): Smith says that's when Nichols told her to get into the bathtub.

SMITH: And he said, I don't feel comfortable with you right now. Just please don't scream. Don't do anything to make me hurt you. I don't want to hurt anybody else. I just want to relax. And right now I'm going to walk around the house, so I can get a little more familiar with your house.

So, I knew the best thing for me to do was to do everything that he said, no matter what it was.

ZAHN: Smith says he taped her hands behind her back, taped her legs together, and then tied an extension cord around them.

SMITH: My arms are taped up. There's nothing I can do. And he wants me to go in my bedroom and sit on my bed, and he's going to rape me there.

I was totally terrified. But, there again, I kept praying, if he rapes me, I can get through it. But what I can't get through is death. If he kills me, I can't ever see Paige again. If he rapes me, I can still see her and I can get through it.

ZAHN: What Brian Nichols asked Ashley Smith for next will shock you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CAROL LIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As CNN celebrates its 25th anniversary, editors at "Fortune" magazine compiled the top trends that are shaping our future.

The evolution of cars, from gas-guzzling SUVs to the latest environmentally friendly hybrids. Next up, flying cars. It's becoming less of a pipe dream and the stuff of cartoons.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE JETSONS")

GEORGE O'HANLON, ACTOR: Will you look at that traffic? The skyway is jammed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LIN: The future is sky cars, powered by small engines.

ANDY SERWER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's something that would capture the imagination of just about anybody. I mean, who wouldn't want to travel around in the air in their own little car? LIN: NASA has been quietly working on the highway in the sky, a computer system designed to let millions of people fly wherever they want and whenever they want in their own vehicles. What's next, air rage?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: People here in the Atlanta metropolitan area are very nervous right now because there's a gunman with very little to lose who is on the loose, who has shot four people, and who has killed three.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: That was our Gary Tuchman reporting on the Atlanta courthouse shooting that gripped the whole nation back in March.

More now of my interview with Ashley Smith. You remember her as the hostage hero who helped bring an end to the hunt for Brian Nichols. It was early on the morning of March 21 when she says he forced her into her apartment at gunpoint. The day before, authorities say, he escaped from jail and killed four people.

Now Ashley had to fight for her own life.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): Ashley Smith says she was a hostage in her own apartment, tied up, unable to move her arms or legs, and terrified of what would happen next.

SMITH: He said, I want to take a shower. OK, fine. And then he -- that's when he asked me for -- he asked me if I had some marijuana.

And I said, no, I don't. But in the attempt to do everything that he said, I said, I have some ice.

ZAHN: Smith says she started using ice, or methamphetamine, after her husband was killed in a parking lot outside a bar just two years after they were married. He died in her arms. She quickly spiraled downward, the drugs taking hold of her life.

SMITH: And, as soon as -- those words, I mean, I don't think it even got out of my mouth very good before, in my head, I was like, what have I just done. What have you just done? You have offered the thing that has ruined your life and made you hear stuff, and you drove your car off the side of the road, and you gave your child up. And it has taken a toll on your mind and your body, and it's rotted your teeth and it's thinned your hair. And it has totally ruined your life. And it's made you crazy.

And you're giving this to -- you're going to offer it to somebody who's killed three people? What have you done? You've just killed yourself.

I started to pray, God, please don't let him ask for that stuff when he gets out.

ZAHN: But Smith knew that, in order to stay alive, she had to do whatever Nichols wanted.

SMITH: He got out of the shower. Then he said, OK, can I have it now? I was like, great. My prayer didn't work on the please don't let him ask for it, so I have got to give it to him now.

ZAHN (on camera): Had he ever done ice before?

SMITH: He said he had not. He said he hadn't.

ZAHN: So, describe to us what happened next.

SMITH: I got it out. And he asked me how to do it. I told him I would show him how to do it. I went in the bathroom and set it all up for him and said, here you go. He said, you're not going to do it with me? And the answer was so clear to me. I said, no. That stuff has ruined my life. And I wish that you wouldn't do it either.

ZAHN: You said that?

SMITH: But the choice is yours. Yes. I would have rather not done those drugs and died right then than to do them.

ZAHN: You had been trying to get off those drugs for a long time.

SMITH: Yes.

ZAHN: Here you are, confronting your own death.

SMITH: Mm-hmm.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Don't you think that would have been a great temptation to do it at that point?

SMITH: A very -- a very good temptation. But I knew that, if I could say no to him, with guns in the house and being scared -- I just completely totally surrendered everything to God right then, even my addiction.

For a long time, I thought that my addiction was bigger than things that God could handle. And that night, I just tried him on it and said, I'm going to give this to you, too. Now, if you can handle this, then...

ZAHN: I hear such rawness in your voice when you talk about your addiction. How emotional were you at that point?

SMITH: As the night wore on, I did become emotional and say, you know, I gave my daughter up. I gave the child that I gave birth to two-and-a-half months early, who I sat in the hospital and cried and cried and begged and pleaded with God to let her make it through. I gave her up for it.

And I just tried to make him feel that, too. I was so mad at myself at the time for choosing that drug over her. And that was a time where I was going to say, stop. Don't do this anymore. And that was it.

ZAHN (voice-over): For the first time in her life, Smith found the strength to refuse the drug that had almost killed her.

(on camera): What did you look like when you were at your most desperate low?

SMITH: I weighed about 110 pounds. My eyes were black underneath. My hair was so thin. I just looked really bad. I looked very old.

ZAHN: How much of your meth addiction had to do with the fact that your husband literally was murdered and died in your arms?

SMITH: Nobody forced me to do those things. And my family supported me, and they supported me, and they supported me, until, one day, they had just had enough. And that is what it took.

ZAHN: And then your baby, Paige, was taken away from you.

SMITH: Yes.

ZAHN: How much did that hurt?

SMITH: I remember the day my aunt called and she said, we want to take Paige, because you're not taking care of her. And I said, I'm fine. I'm fine. I'm fine.

And, a week later, I called her back and I said, you're right. I'm not giving her the love that she deserves. And I'm not going to stop. And I don't want her around it. So, I let her go. And after that, I lost my house. I lost my friend. And I lost my family. And I lost myself.

ZAHN: You were basically institutionalized.

SMITH: Yes.

ZAHN: How sick were you?

SMITH: I was very sick, very sick. I thought the whole world was after me. I was so sick that I even thought that my daughter was after me sometimes.

ZAHN: How did you think that?

SMITH: Just the paranoia. It's not just a physical appearance. It -- or a physical deterioration. It's your brain. And it's terrible.

ZAHN: So, you actually thought you heard your daughter Paige's voice? And you thought she was going to hurt you?

SMITH: Yes.

ZAHN: And then you ended up almost killing yourself in a car?

SMITH: I just...

ZAHN: What happened?

SMITH: I thought I heard God say, let go and let God.

ZAHN: Of the steering wheel?

SMITH: Of the steering wheel. And, at the time, I thought he meant the steering wheel. So I said, OK, big guy, I'm going to trust you here. If I'm really a child of yours, then I'm going to let go and you'll take care of me right now. I let go, and he did take care of me, because I'm still sitting here before you.

But I broke both my arms, three ribs and severed my pancreas. And they were going to let me leave the hospital that night. And my mom said, please keep her overnight. And that night, my pancreas erupted. So, had my mom not said, please keep her overnight, I would be dead.

ZAHN (voice-over): Ashley Smith believes she was saved by God. But her addiction to meth continued. Now facing death once again in her own apartment, she refuses the drug that has ruined her life. But would Brian Nichols let her live to fulfill her new sense of purpose.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DON O'BRIANT, CARJACKING VICTIM: Driving at work this morning, I went to the Centennial Garage to park, as I usually did a little after 9:00. And an SUV pulled in right beside me. And a tall black guy gets out with no shirt on and asked for directions to Lenox Square. I figure he's in town for the basketball tournament, so I start giving him directions. And, all of a sudden, he pulls a gun and says, give me your keys.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: And that was one of the men who was almost a victim, allegedly, of Brian Nichols, the man who was involved in that courthouse shooting, according to authorities.

And Ashley Smith was 26 years old, a widow, a mother of a 6-year- old girl, and battling a very serious drug habit. Then, last March, she faced a living nightmare that tested her in a way few of us has ever been tested. Brian Nichols, the suspect in a violent rampage that left four people dead in Atlanta, took her hostage in her own apartment.

As our interview continues, she tells me how she finally persuaded Nichols to trust her.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): Three hours had gone by, and Ashley Smith was still a hostage in her own home. She says Brian Nichols had refused her advice and snorted a line of methamphetamine. Smith, a now recovering meth addict, was scared. She knew firsthand that the drug can make a person paranoid, irrational, even violent.

SMITH: He was calm as can be. He went and sat down on the couch, and just took in everything I was saying.

ZAHN: He could have killed you right then.

SMITH: He could have.

ZAHN: It could have made him aggressive.

SMITH: Yes. That's when I went and got the "Purpose Driven Life."

ZAHN: She had just started reading the best seller written by Rick Warren while struggling to overcome her drug addiction. It gave her hope in times of weakness.

SMITH: And I said that's what I need right now. I'm going to turn back to God. So that's when I asked him if I could read. And he asked me if I would read it aloud and I sat there on the bed for -- I guess we sat there for probably five minutes.

"What you are is God's gift to you. What you do with yourself is your gift to God."

ZAHN: Did he say anything about what you read to him?

SMITH: He said, what do you think your purpose is? And I said, I don't know. You know, maybe it's to tell people about what's happened to me throughout my life. And it's funny that I said that then, because that's what I'm doing now. But he said, what do you think mine is? He asked, so I told him what I really thought.

ZAHN: What did you say?

SMITH: I said, I think you have to pay for your mistakes. And maybe it's to go to prison and to minister to the people there.

ZAHN: And you weren't worried about making him angry at that point?

SMITH: I really wasn't. I think I wasn't really scared of dying, because I thought God was really mad at me for my addiction. And saying no to it then was kind of like, he had forgiven me because I had just said no. So I didn't want to die, but if I did, I knew that I was going to die and God was going to be proud of me going up there.

ZAHN (voice-over): Smith was surprised by how calm and relaxed Nichols appeared. She says it was then he began to open up and share his thoughts. The conversation then turned to the rape allegation his ex-girlfriend had made against him. This was the very charge that had brought Nichols to the Atlanta courthouse on that fateful day.

SMITH: And he just began to talk about it saying he didn't rape her, and do you know what it feels like to be falsely accused and to be sitting in jail and -- I just tried to relate to him from the similar experiences that I had had of going to jail, though it wasn't for that period of time that he was there.

ZAHN (on camera): Did he show any anger at that point?

SMITH: He didn't cuss at me. He didn't hurt me. He didn't do any of those things. Of course he's scaring the ever-living crap out of me because he's got a gun pointed at me.

ZAHN (voice-over): But Smith felt Nichols was slowly warming up to her, even beginning to trust her.

SMITH: I think if it had been someone else who hadn't experienced or been so open to express the mistakes of their life, and be as honest as I was to him, it may not have gotten through to him. He may have said, oh, well, you know.

Because there a point in the night where he still was going to keep going. And I was going to -- he wanted me to help him rob a bank. And I was like, forget it. You can totally forget that. I'm not going to rob a bank with somebody that has forced me into my house. And you can't rob a bank without getting killed. I'm not going to...

ZAHN (on camera): You said that to him?

SMITH: Yes, immediately. There was no -- no -- it was not a thought about it, except for, forget it. Are you crazy?

ZAHN: Are you shocked now when you look back that you had that kind of attitude?

SMITH: Yes. I am.

ZAHN: A guy that basically had a gun pointed to your head?

SMITH: Yes, I am. But it was kind of like, I wasn't going to change my mind. I mean, he couldn't make me do it. If he was going to make me do it, he was going to have to kill me.

ZAHN (voice-over): Despite the growing trust between them, Nichols still wasn't ready to turn himself in. Smith says he knew he had to get rid of the truck he had allegedly stolen from federal agent David Wilham. His plan? She says Nichols wanted her to drive in her car alone while he followed. Smith then asked Nichols if she could bring her cell phone and was shocked when he said yes. But would she use it?

SMITH: And I thought, if I called the police now, then there will be a shootout if they come. And then I could die, too.

ZAHN (on camera): Did Brian Nichols tell you not to call 911 when he got in the truck and you got in the car?

SMITH: Huh-uh.

ZAHN: Did that surprise you?

SMITH: Huh-uh. Obviously he didn't care because he gave me my phone back. I didn't know where my phone was. He gave it back to me. Maybe he wanted me to call the police then. I don't know. Because when he got in the car after picking up the -- or after dropping the truck off, he just looked at me like, wow.

ZAHN (voice-over): Smith's terror had last nearly seven hours. A strange friendship seemed to have developed between alleged kidnapper and his hostage.

SMITH: He said to me that I wish that we would have met under different circumstances and at a different time. So that leads me to believe that he thought I could have been a friend of his one day.

ZAHN: Smith thought that the key to her freedom was gaining more trust. So she talked about her family, and her daughter Paige. Finally, at 9:30 a.m., she says something clicked and Smith convinced Nichols to let her leave the apartment to visit her daughter.

Smith says they said good-bye. She walked to her car. Her whole body shaking, as she got behind the wheel. Then she finally picked up her cell phone and dialed 911.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's advising, he's wanting to turn himself in to us at this time.

SMITH: Before he started walking down, I prayed, and prayed, and prayed. Let him make the right decision. Please do not let anybody else get hurt. Nobody else needs to die not even him. And he knew that if he just opened the door, then he was going to die. So he had to let them know, look I give up. And so God was at work there, too.

ZAHN: Smith believes god has given her a new purpose. Today, she says she's drug-free, living with her aunt and daughter in Augusta, Georgia.

(on camera): This has to be a completely upending experience for your daughter. Does she understand what happened to you?

SMITH: She just knows that mommy's a hero. Whether or not she knows what that word is, I try to tell her, mommy's not a hero, she's just mommy. But she'll see people in the stores and street and go, my mom's a hero. I'm like, well I'll be your hero, but that's all.

ZAHN (voice-over): Hero is a title Smith is not terribly comfortable with. She prefers just to be called mom, a role that she cherishes now more than ever.

SMITH: I can feel the love in my daughter's hugs now. And I find myself in her room sometimes praying over her in her life, and what happens in her life. And praying to God of how -- guide me on how just to give her a good life. It's not accurate to say she's all I care about, but she's the most important thing right now. And she will be for the rest of my life.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: But you might still wonder why Ashley Smith is coming forward now with details about giving crystal meth to Brian Nichols. She says she didn't go public with that right away because she didn't want her own family to know she was still using meth at that time. She thought it might jeopardize her relationship with her aunt who then had custody of her daughter.

And what about Brian Nichols? Well, he is currently in Atlanta's Fulton County Jail awaiting trial. He has pleaded not guilty to 54 counts of murder, kidnapping, robbery and escape.

Coming up next, a top cop in the spotlight. Did he ignore a victim's cry for help?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't hold him personally for her death. I just feel like he could have done just a little bit more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did my job appropriately at the time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Coming up, why was New Orleans' new police chief suspended after a brutal murder?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Back to the Gulf Coast now. New Orleans, pretty much dry tonight, but keeping it that way is another matter. Here's the very latest for you right now. The head of the Army Corps of Engineers says it will take until next June to get the city's levees, pumps and flood defenses back to the point where they were before Katrina hit. That's obviously not good enough.

But get this: The corps' commander says his people have no authority to make New Orleans' flood protection better than it was, and it would take a law to change that.

Meanwhile, cash-strapped Gulf Coast counties may be getting some help paying the first responders after all. Today, the head of FEMA told Congress that his agency can make loans available to pay the salaries of law enforcement officers, although there is a $5 million limit.

Yesterday, the sheriff of St. Bernard Parish told CNN that he didn't have the money to make payroll for 182 of his own people.

And outside of Baton Rouge today, people started moving into the first trailer towns set up by FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The 600 or so trailers are expected to be homes for about 2,000 evacuees.

And there is still more trouble tonight for the New Orleans Police Department. You might remember the AWOL officers. After Katrina, the allegations that some officers were also looters, and the resignation of Police Superintendent Eddie Compass. Well, now his replacement faces some tough questions about his past. Here's investigative correspondent Drew Griffin.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The new police chief of New Orleans is coming clean on a record he knows is about to be exposed.

WARREN RILEY, ACTING SUPT., NEW ORLEANS POLICE DEPARTMENT: I have in fact been suspended five times in my career.

GRIFFIN: Warren Riley has been a cop for the past 26 years. His five suspensions include three for minor car accidents on duty. There is a suspension for not showing up for an assigned municipal court date, also minor.

At issue, though, is the fifth suspension. It involved Terri Prevost's sister, Sharon.

TERRI PREVOST, SHARON ROBINSON'S SISTER: Warren has a daughter, and I posed this question to him. You have a daughter. Wouldn't you have wanted someone else to take an extra mile to help your daughter? Regardless of what the law stated back then? This was a battered woman who was in need of much help from you.

GRIFFIN (on camera): On February 17th, 1995, a battered woman named Sharon Robinson, in need of help from anyone, came to this office of the New Orleans Police Department. She told a tale of a cop, a boyfriend, who was threatening to kill her, holding a gun to her head. She even told an officer that this officer had cut off all her hair and said, no one would want to date a bald woman. She gave that report to an officer named Warren Riley. That officer, Warren Riley, gave the report to no one. Three months later, Sharon Robinson was murdered.

PREVOST: I don't hold him personally for her death. I just feel like he could have done just a little bit more.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Terri Prevost is appalled that the officer who refused to intervene in her sister's domestic abuse is now the new interim chief of New Orleans. While she does not directly hold Warren Riley responsible for Sharon's death, she does question his judgment. Riley's report of his encounter with Sharon Robinson detailing the violent relationship with her cop boyfriend did not appear at the New Orleans Police Department until the day after her murder.

RILEY: I am the person who actually brought that, at the time of her death, brought it to our Public Integrity Bureau.

GRIFFIN: The boyfriend immediately became a suspect, though he was never charged. Riley, then a lieutenant, was suspended for three days for failing to accept and document a complaint from a woman accusing a police officer of threats, aggravated assault and battery.

Last night, the chief called that suspension another minor incident.

RILEY: I did my job appropriately at the time. I was in fact reprimanded for it. But that was basically Superintendent Pennington (ph), who was the chief at the time, basically stated in civil service that it was a mistake.

GRIFFIN: A mistake that Riley calls a mixup, that did not cost him much at all.

After his suspension, he continued rising through the ranks, eventually becoming the number two man at the NOPD. Now the man who Terri Prevost says looked the other way when her sister, battered and beaten, came to his door, is now running the New Orleans Police Department.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: That was Drew Griffin reporting for us tonight.

When we come back, we're going to change our focus altogether. Everyone is buzzing about Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' announcement that they're expecting. But when it comes time to deliver her bundle of joy, everyone will need to be real quiet. Shh. Jeanne Moos tells us why, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And we're back, about 12 minutes before the hour, a lot going on tonight. Erica Hill of HEADLINE NEWS joins me now to update the other top stories -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS ANCHOR: Paula, health officials in Canada now suspect legionnaire's disease as the cause of death for 16 residents at a nursing home in Toronto. The disease is a form of pneumonia that often affects elderly people with respiratory problems.

President Bush's adviser Karl Rove has agreed to give more testimony in the investigation into the leak of a CIA's agent's identity. Now, this will be Rove's fourth appearance before the grand jury. His lawyer says Rove will testify without a guarantee that he won't be indicted. Rove's lawyer also says the special prosecutor has given no indication as to whether charges will be filed. President Bush meantime says the U.S. must recognize Iraq as the central front in what he calls the war on terror. The president spoke today trying to rally support for the war in Iraq. Democrats accuse him of giving the country a false choice between only resolve and retreat.

And the military says it's now ready to pay back U.S. troops and their families who had to use their own money to buy body armor. Many service personnel bought the protective gear when the military didn't provide it in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Paula, back over to you.

ZAHN: Erica, thanks so much.

When we come back, Tom Cruise's religious beliefs have stirred up a whole lot of controversy before, but they call for some surprising behavior when Katie Holmes delivers their first child. What is it? Can she do it? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: So as you probably know, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes haven't exactly been silent about their romance, and now they seem to want the whole world to know they're having a baby. But once they're finally in the delivery room, their lips will have to stay sealed. Why? We sent Jeanne Moos to find the answer.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After all that public nuzzling and staring into each other's eyes and jumping for joy, a bundle of joy isn't far behind? Wedded or not, here it comes.

But it may be what's called a silent birthing, or as the "New York Daily News" put it, "Quit Yelling, It's Only Childbirth."

Tom Cruise is a Scientologist. And Scientologists don't believe in drugs, and they don't believe in screaming during childbirth. In the words of Scientology's founder, maintain silence in the presence of birth to save the sanity of the mother and child.

Try telling that to this woman, who delivered her baby home alone after calling 911.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just let it come... Ma'am, just

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's coming out!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Let it come out, ma'am. Just don't let the baby fall on the floor. Let it come out.

MOOS: The Church of Scientology told CNN it doesn't regulate the private lives of its parishioners, that silent birthing is strictly up to the parents. Another pair of famous Scientologists, John Travolta and his wife Kelly Preston, opted for silent birthing, though Travolta did say his wife was free to moan.

Scientologists believe in seven days of silence after birth, fearing noise and negatives experiences imprint themselves on the child's mind. It's ironic that the female half of a celebrity couple, accustomed to hearing a whole lot of screaming, could end up trying not to scream at a time when most women can't stop themselves.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, god, it's out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's out. Is the baby breathing, ma'am?

MOOS: Breathing and crying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can hear the baby crying.

MOOS: At least Scientology doesn't say anything about the baby not being allowed to cry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Jeanne Moos, thanks so much.

It's a nervous night here in New York City. I'm going to go back to Deborah Feyerick in a minute for the very latest on the breaking news. The new threat to the city's subway system. We'll be back with the late details.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And we're taking you right now to the corner of 34th and 7th in midtown Manhattan outside Penn Station, one of the busier subway stations or areas for commuters here in the city. The New York City subway system is under its most specific threat of a terrorist attack ever according to the mayor of the city saying the threat came from overseas, but it had already been partially thwarted. So, let's get one more update on the breaking news about this terror threat from Deborah Feyerick who joins us now from the news room.

Hi, Deborah. What else have we learned?

FEYERICK: Hey, Paula. Well, as you said, this is the first specific threat against the New York City subway system from the type of attack, possibly using baby carriages to the timing, possibly within the next few days. And the mayor and the police chief are taking no chances. They're warning riders about the threat. They're flooding the underground with cops. They're upping the number of bag searches.

This information did come from overseas. It did not mention a specific subway station. But officials say there have been no arrests in Manhattan. And there's no reason to believe that any of the terrorists are in the city.

The head of the FBI in New York admits that the information is uncorroborated. But he describes it as so on point, that it really raised the level of concern. And he said that there are operations that have taken place that have disrupted the threat.

Now as for commuters, well, they got this information during the evening rush. One woman said, we're not going to buy cars and we're certainly not walking. So they're just taking it in stride. They're on the subways. They're getting home as usual -- Paula.

ZAHN: But Deborah, when you hear words like uncorroborated and you hear other feds saying that this information wasn't credible, do you get the sense they think that New York City is overreacting tonight to all of this?

FEYERICK: They definitely think New York City is overreacting to this. They keep using the word uncorroborated. And again, it's one of those things, New York City has been the target of an attack 12 times in the last 15 years. So they're not taking any chances, regardless of what Washington is saying.

ZAHN: Deborah Feyerick, thank you so much.

That's it for all of us here. Thanks so much for being with us tonight. "LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.

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