Mother Of Seven Caught In Shootout That Kills Her Captor
SHELBYVILLE, Ind. -- Less than an hour after reuniting with her family following her terrifying 20-hour ordeal as a hostage, Tammi Smith was poised and smiling in her first TV interview with News 5's John London.
"It's awesome," Smith, 29, said about being back home. "I'm glad I'm home because I didn't think I would be. I'm glad I'm alive."
But two memories still seemed to haunt the mother of seven. Both were tied to the final moments she spent with her captor, Dennis McAninch, of Cincinnati, in the Bigfoot convenience store off Interstate 74, just before the SWAT team stormed in about 7:30 Thursday morning and killed him.
Smith said McAninch fired two shots out the door at police, the first shot right past her head, seemingly inviting a deadly response, London reported.
Smith said McAninch had repeatedly told her he didn't want to go back to prison, and at that point, after 20 hours surrounded by police, SWAT and snipers, he apparently had become desperate to death to avoid bars.
"We were in there for a long time. He was scared. He'd been in prison before. He didnít want to go back," Smith told London.
She said she had told McAninch over and over that he didn't have to die there, in a dark convenience store.
"He promised me he was going to let me go, but he was buying time," she said. "He wanted to let this drag out. He knew it was going to be the end."
Smith said she hadn't thought McAninch would hurt her, but by the end she wasn't so sure. She said he had been a perfect gentleman since he had taken her hostage about 11 a.m. Wednesday, when he pulled her by the hair and pointed a gun at her head.
"He really did make me feel like I wasn't going to be hurt. He made me feel comfortable," she said. "He was very nice. If I wanted something to drink, he would get it for me. He seemed like a normal guy."
But after a tense 20 hours, Smith said, she was having fears that he might kill her or use her as a human shield.
"When it was going toward the end, I was kind of wary," she said. "I didn't know if he would (harm her). I didn't know. He's got a gun the whole entire time. He's got all these guns pointed at him. I don't know if he's going to pull me in front of him. I didnít know."
Sure enough, once McAninch shot out the door, the SWAT team came in firing. Smith said McAninch was standing beside her. Smith said she dove to the floor.
"They just started shooting at us and I'm on the floor trying to cover myself from getting shot. I was thinking, 'I'm going to die,'" she said. "Luckily, none of those bullets hit me. I didn't want him to die, either."
But Smith said a bullet hit McAninch in the neck, and he fell on her.
"He was lying there on my foot," she said. "I lost my shoe. It was under him when they pulled me out of there."
Smith said McAninch wasn't dead yet "but I knew he wasn't going to make it."
By the time a SWAT officer rushed her out of the store and across the parking lot to safety, McAninch was dead.
"I hated to see how it turned out, but I'm home with my five kids and two stepkids and I'm not even hurt. I lucked out, really, with all those gunfires," Smith said.
Smith said she felt sorry for McAninch's 13-year-old daughter, Cassidy, and his family. She said McAninch had given her a gold chain he had been wearing around his neck and asked her to give it to Cassidy.
"He just wanted to make sure that his daughter knows he loves her and his family knows he loves them. He was sorry for what he got into," Smith said.
Later, in a news conference, Smith said she thought McAninch might have surrendered or at least let her go if police had let him call his daughter and family.
"All he wanted was to call his family," she said.
But she said police cut off the store phones, reactivating them only when they wanted to call and talk to McAninch or Smith.
"I just think if he would have had a phone to talk to his family maybe something would have been done faster, but they (the police) weren't cooperating with what he wanted," Smith said.
Smith said McAninch couldn't get a connection with his cell phone.
"We were trying to use the fax machine, but I didn't know how to work it," Smith said. "I was trying to figure it out, but it wouldn't do anything."
Smith said she and McAninch spent most of the time in a backroom, with her sitting on a chair and him on the floor. They watched the store security cameras to see what police were doing, but something went wrong with the hookup, she said.
"I think he pushed the wrong button and we lost all the cameras, so we didn't know what was going out there, so I would have to go out there (into the store) every once in a while to see what the police were doing," Smith said.
She said she thought a couple of times about trying to escape, but she said the front door was locked. "And I wasn't about to make that move," she said.
Smith said she got sick during the ordeal because she couldn't eat.
"He threw some food in there for me, but I was so nervous, who's going to eat?" she said.
McAninch snacked on Jawbreakers and wished for beer, she said.
"He said, 'Too bad I picked a gas station that doesn't have beer,'" Smith said.
By 6 a.m. Thursday, police said they were tired of McAninch's breaking promises to release Smith and decided to move into action.
They called the store and made arrangements with McAninch to let Smith come to the door at 7 a.m. to get a new phone. They also talked to Smith and secretly filled her in on their plan.
SWAT members would be hiding near the door, and they would grab her when she opened it.
But the plan went awry for two reasons.
For one, McAninch tethered Smith by tying a vacuum sweeper cord around her waist. And when she got to the door, she was taken by surprise.
"The SWAT team was on my left. He (McAninch) didn't see them. But they didn't do what I thought they were supposed to do," Smith said. "They were supposed to lay the phone on the floor and I couldn't find the phone and I was like, 'Where's the phone?' So he (McAninch) knew I was talking to them."
Smith said McAninch then yanked the cord, pulling her away from the door, and opened fire.
Outside the store, about 100 yards away, Smith's husband and parents heard the shots and thought the worst.
"I thought she was dead," Shawn Smith said.
He defended the police, saying, "I think they did what they needed to do to get her out of there."