Susan Smith entered the Albertsons grocery in a small Montana town Sunday night and asked to use the phone.
She wanted to call a local pastor, she told the deli manager.
Instead she called her family in Spokane and uttered chilling words: “I’ve been abducted and I need you to call the FBI.”
Her telephone call redirected the massive manhunt for fugitive Mitchell L. Walck, accused of shooting at police in North Idaho and kidnapping Smith. He remains on the lam.
Employees at the Glendive, Mont., grocery store described the 62-year-old Smith as calm after a harrowing weekend. She was kidnapped Saturday from her Rathdrum Mountain ranch at gunpoint.
Walck hid on her property during his escape from authorities after he reportedly sped away from a traffic stop and fired shots at an Idaho State Police officer Friday, authorities said.
Walck confronted Smith with a gun outside her home and urged her back inside, where he shaved his beard. He reportedly stole two firearms from Smith’s ranch and may have dyed his hair and mustache black, a Kootenai County sheriff’s news release said.
Walck kidnapped Smith and took her car through multiple states before finally dropping her off unharmed in Glendive, about 30 miles from the North Dakota border.
“She wasn’t scared or shook up or anything,” said Cindy Ceynar, deli manager at Albertsons in Glendive. “I didn’t even know to believe her – I was just so shocked. She was worried about her cats and wanted somebody to check on her cats.”
Ceynar urged Smith to call police, but she declined and said Walck told her it would be in her best interest to give him 45 minutes to get away.
“I was just amazed that she was still listening to what he told her,” Ceynar said. “I think that’s what saved her life when I think about it. If he was that dangerous – she was cooperative and did what he asked. I would have been way different, but I’m thinking that’s what saved her.”
Walck’s location remains unknown, but the FBI’s Salt Lake City division has joined the manhunt and is offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of Walck. Since the search is spanning multiple states, they have sent Walck’s mug shot across the country and have issued a warrant for his arrest.
Smith stayed in the store for about an hour Sunday while her family contacted authorities. Kootenai County sheriff’s spokesman Lt. Stu Miller said Smith’s sister-in-law called them around 4:45 p.m.
Kootenai County sheriff’s deputies transported Smith back to Idaho, where she was interviewed by detectives, but details of that interview have not been released. Anyone with information regarding the whereabouts of Walck is asked to call the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department at (208) 446-1300.
Since Walck is thought to be armed and dangerous, police ask the public not to approach him.Related: Montana authorities are very familiar with the suspect, Mitchell Walck, who arrested him in 2001 for theft, burglary, trespassing and assault on law enforcement. Powell County Sheriff Scott Howard shares Walck’s criminal history and what put him in Montana State Prison for about ten years. Read at Sirens & Gavels.