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Encounter with bank robber draws Southern student ‘closer to God’

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–It was supposed to be a routine trip to the bank, but Justin Smith found himself separated from eternity by three inches.

It was around 10:30 a.m. Oct. 25 and the first-semester Boyce College freshman was filling out a deposit slip in a teller window at the Shelbyville Road branch of Fifth Third Bank.

In seemingly a nanosecond, Smith went from concentrating on his deposit to staring down the barrel of a loaded semi-automatic pistol.

The man behind the gun, moderately disguised by a toboggan and dark sunglasses and visibly agitated beyond reason, tossed a pillowcase to the teller and made his intentions clear to all within the walls of Fifth Third Bank — “Fill it with money within 10 seconds or I will kill this young man.”

The bank had been virtually devoid of customers when Smith arrived. Seconds after Smith’s arrival, a stranger slipped in line behind him and loudly spoke the word “hey!”

Smith ignored the utterance and continued working on his deposit when, without warning, the man who had spoken struck him over the head with the butt of a pistol. Stunned and stupefied, Smith caught his balance on the counter and wheeled around to face his assailant.

Suddenly, the facts rang clear: the man was a bank robber, Smith his hostage.

“At that time it sort of hit me what was going on,” said Smith, a student at the undergraduate program of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “[The man] started yelling and when I turned around he kind of hesitated like it surprised him that I turned around. I guess he expected me to fall down.

“He took the gun and pointed it at my head. He said, ‘Everybody else get down on the floor now or I’m going to shoot him!’ He kept repeating that. That gun was about that close (holding his pointer finger and thumb about three inches apart) to my face.”

The robber forced Smith and bank employees to the floor and shouted at one teller to remain upright and fill the bag with cash. He again aimed the firearm at Smith and declared that he would count to 10 and pull the trigger if his demand was not smoothly expedited.

The man began to count; Smith began to pray.

“He only said one number, 10,” the 19-year-old Smith said. “At that point, I told her to give him the money. He turned around and told me to shut up and pointed the gun back toward my head. I closed my eyes. I was just waiting for the bang sound after that.

“I probably shouldn’t have said anything. But she probably wouldn’t have moved because she was shocked. She started to put money in the bag.”

Within seconds, the robber snatched the bag from the teller and fled the bank. Smith arose and locked the doors, fearing the robber might return.

Smith, a native of Wooster, Ohio, who is studying at Boyce College to become a youth minister, escaped the living nightmare with a bump on his head, a testimony of God’s protection on his lips and a profound understanding of the Sustainer of Life in his heart.

Said Smith, “I’ve been drawn closer to God and am even more determined to follow his will for my life. This is a chance to do it [his life] all over type thing.

“A lot of people go their whole life and then something happens and they wonder how they could have done things in their life differently. I look at this as God giving me a second chance because I could have easily been shot. I have no doubt in my mind that the man would have shot me. I mean, he hit me over the head without being provoked.”

According to St. Matthews police, the robber remains at large. Smith said he prays daily that the man will trust Christ. If he could meet him again — without the gun — Smith said he would tell him that in Christ, there is a better way.

The evening following the incident, Smith recounted the incident at his church, Highview Baptist. He has been asked to address an adult Bible study and give testimony to the preserving power of God. Smith said he prayed nearly the entire time he was on the floor during the robbery.

Smith said he realizes that his involvement in the robbery was not a matter of blind, wrong place/wrong time chance, but rather the providential leading of God.

“I know that God has some purpose in this,” he said. “I see that from how God protected everybody in the bank and kept the teller calm. I know that he was in control.”

The incident has also afforded Smith with the opportunity to witness to the bank employees who were traumatized by the crime. He returned to the Fifth Third the day following the robbery and shared his faith with several of the employees. Smith said the incident has not left him more fearful of circumstances, but more certain of the gospel’s power.

“I’m not really that scared,” he said. “After being through it you see God working in [the incident]. I can tell people that I have, in a way, faced death and tell them that man does not know his time and ask them what they would do if they were about to face death. I definitely want it to make me more bold in sharing the faith with people.”

    About the Author

  • Jeff Robinson

    Jeff Robinson is director of news and information at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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