'I wake up every morning thanking God I'm alive'

RATHDRUM, Idaho (AP) - Last Dec. 1, Mitchell Walck kidnapped Susan-Marie Smith and took her into North Dakota and back to Montana in a horrifying 27-hour ordeal.

When she went to let her pets out that day, little did Smith know that the armed fugitive was casing her home.

Police had given the Rathdrum woman the OK to go about her business after the manhunt for Walck.

Walck had failed to stop for a traffic violation on Highway 41 south of Spirit Lake while driving a stolen vehicle, and fired shots at an Idaho State Police trooper before fleeing into the woods.

The trooper was not hit, and the hunt continued.

Smith checked on her dad's home nearby, went to the post office, then let out her pets.

Then she heard her front door handle wiggle, assuming it was a friend.

"When I stepped onto the porch, (Walck) was about 15 feet away pointing a pistol at me," Smith said recently, during her first interview since the experience. "He had been hiding out in my '58 Chevy."

The ordeal ended in Glendive, Mont., near the North Dakota border with Smith being unharmed and released near an Albertsons grocery store.

"Things could've turned out a whole lot worse," said Smith, a single 63-year-old who didn't know Walck. "I wake up every morning thanking God I'm alive. I put myself in His hands and rolled with the punches."

Walck was later arrested in Bismarck, N.D., after he was found hiding in a semi at a truck stop and pulled a gun on a trucker. He pleaded guilty in July to terrorizing, unlawful entry to a motor vehicle, possession of stolen property and felony possession of a firearm.

He was sentenced in October to 10 years in prison.

Smith was awakened at 1 a.m. on Dec. 1, 2012, by a helicopter circling overhead searching for Walck.

"At one point, I got dressed and went to the porch to watch (the police overhead) and I thought, 'This is stupid. You had better get inside and lock the door,'" Smith said.

After police thought they'd exhausted their search of that area, Smith was told she could go about her day.

"I took them at their word," said Smith, who works as a seamstress at All Seasons Apparel in Post Falls.

Smith said she was focused on letting her pets back inside so, when the door handle wiggled, she stepped outside to see who was there rather than taking a peek from inside her home first.

"I remember saying an expletive when I saw him point the gun at me," Smith said. "He pushed me inside the house with the side of the gun pressed against my back."

Smith later learned from Walck that he had earlier been on her property during the manhunt and said that seemed like the best place to hide out.

Smith said Walck, 58, was very demanding.

"The first thing he wanted was coffee," she said. "He said it was too cold, so I put it in the microwave, then he complained that it was too hot."

"He also complained that Christian women shouldn't have short hair (as Smith has), but that they should have long, flowing hair."

Smith, who attends a Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Coeur d'Alene, said Walck's demeanor changed after he learned that is where she attends, because that church was among his earlier stops to receive assistance.

"When he found out that I went to that church, he was a lot nicer to me," Smith said. "But he still had to be in charge. I had to do what he wanted me to."

After finally becoming convinced about Smith's assertion that police had cleared the area, Walck was ready to make a break for it.

"I tried to reason with him to take my car and leave me," she said. "But he said, 'No, you're coming with me.'"

The two headed across the border into Spokane Valley in Washington state before Walck turned around and drove across Montana.

"I think he wanted to cross as many state lines as possible to get the feds involved," Smith said. "I did what I was told because I didn't want to get shot."

Not long after reaching North Dakota, Walck headed back into Montana.

As the two approached Glendive, he seemed to relent.

"He said, 'Susan, what am I going to do with you?'" she said, adding she suggested he drop her off at a nearby college.

The college was closed - it was a Sunday.

So Walck decided to drop Smith off near an Albertsons.

"He stopped the vehicle, told me to get out and to take the (McDonald's) garbage with me," Smith said. "It took me a bit to get out because I hadn't been walking."

Smith was free at last.

Walck gave back Smith $5.50 of her own money to make a phone call for help. Inside the Albertsons, Smith called her brother and sister in law in Spokane to let them know she was safe.

Walck was later arrested in Bismarck, where Smith's vehicle was also recovered. The vehicle had 1,600 miles put on it during the ordeal.

"When he drove off in my car, I thought, 'It's all just stuff compared to anybody's life,'" Smith said.


Information from: Coeur d'Alene Press