Milford, Del. resident Margaret Smith, 89, didn’t reach that ripe old age by avoiding the risk of helping others. However, after making national headlines for being locked in the trunk of her own car for two days in the bitter cold by two teenage girls she assisted, suffering as her tormentors took a high-speed joyride and later robbed her, Smith’s family insists she alter her ways for her own safety.
“My sister will not be allowed to drive a car, or anything, anymore,” said Christina Carroll, 79, firmly announced in a phone interview regarding her older sister Margaret. “This is not happening again.” Spoken like anyone who has ever had a ferocious scare put into them by the unconscionable actions of a stranger.
Ms. Carroll, and five of her six living siblings, there were 13 in all, have morphed into helicopter parents to their elder sister out of love and fear for her safety. She added, “We need our sister safe. We need this to never happen again.”
According to the New York Times, Smith had stopped at the Chicken Man Convenience Store in Milford for a butter pecan ice cream cone when two teenage girls approached her and asked for a ride across town. The girls allegedly grabbed her keys, stuffed the octogenarian in the trunk, and took off on a joyride with Smith in the trunk. She was released two days later, but only after the girls robbed her.
Smith told ABC News that while she’d hesitated when asked by the girls for a ride, her good nature won over in the end and she decided, “to do a good deed.”
When Ms. Carroll put Mrs. Smith on the phone this morning she talked about how she feels about the prohibition of her driving, curtailing of her long-held freedoms and being pressured to stop living alone. All of this change, she and her sister both say, comes as a direct result of the actions of the girls she thought she was helping.
“Well, I’m not jumpin’-happy about it I can tell you that,” Mrs. Smith said. “I’m in the land of the living and that’s a good thing. Now, I suppose you could say I am having some adjustments in my life that are going to take some time to adjust to.”
According to Mrs. Smith, “There are seven of us siblings living and they all are very strong on the idea that I need to do what they want now.”
Mrs. Smith isn’t the only one getting such calls. When I first started looking for her to interview it turned out the name Margaret Smith’s pretty common in her area. Upon reaching the first of half a dozen women of the same name this morning, the lady replied, “Oh that’s a different Margaret Smith, but my family’s all been calling me ever since that story came out. They are lecturing me on safety, telling me not to make the same mistake! If you find her tell her I’m so glad she’s safe and to stay careful.”
Mrs. Smith has no children of her own, but has always made it her policy to help the young people she knows “to get by when they need it.”
The change, she says, is, “I’m going to have to think a lot harder about who I help. Helping someone you know is one thing but someone you don’t… well, that’s changing for me.”
“It hasn’t changed me wanting to be a good Samaritan, but it makes you think,” she explained. “It shook my faith in people, but it didn’t break it. I still believe in helping people.”
I asked her if she had any words for the two girls who changed her life so dramatically, and whose actions resulted in curtailing many of her personal freedoms.
“Well, I suppose I would have to ask them to think,” she said. “How would you like to put yourself in my place? I wonder, would they do that to someone if they tried to think like that. I don’t suppose they would though, think like that. I don’t suppose they ever put themselves in someone else’s position.”
Mrs. Smith is adamant that this experience and the fallout with her siblings has not changed her mind about helping young people. “People deserve our help and we ought to give it,” she said. “But you need to think before you help someone. You need to look them in the eye and know something about them. Help someone you know.”
Mrs. Smith teaches us a valuable lesson by reminding us that it’s OK to say no when we don’t feel 100 percent safe about those asking for the assist. There is no shame in choosing safety so that we may live to help another day.