“It was by the grace of God that that boy didn’t shoot us. We were really, really lucky.” A still shaken but determined JoBelle Smith spent part of her Monday in some of the roughest neighborhoods in Houston, trying to find the one thing her daughter Ruby Jane holds most dear.
“This is a true great love between a musician and her instrument,” JoBelle says of the violin custom made for Ruby Jane. It is one of several instruments stolen Thursday night when the two were carjacked at gunpoint. It happened after a gig at Dosey Doe, as JoBelle tried to enter a gate code outside a friend’s Houston condominium complex near the Galleria.
With help from a friend and one of Ruby Jane’s band mates, JoBelle searched dumpsters and pawnshops for that priceless violin on Monday. She didn’t have any luck but says she’s certain it will be found.
She says she’s been through enough in her life that she is very good at compartmentalizing things and, “What is important right now is taking care of my child and getting her fiddle back,” calling its loss a blow to Ruby Jane’s heart — Ruby Jane Smith is a 17-year-old Austin-based musician, singer and songwriter best known for her mastery of the fiddle.
What happened Thursday night has turned the Smith’s worlds upside down. The man who held a gun to JoBelle’s head and carjacked them took everything inside their Chevy Trailblazer, but he didn’t take the two women’s spirits. JoBelle says they are both traumatized and probably have not even begun to process the events that left them on the side of the road with no money and no way to contact anyone for help.
She says as the carjacker started to pull away, she instinctively opened the back door and reached into the backseat for her purse. “I’ve gotta get something to get us home,” she thought to herself. She said it was a gut reaction, but she put the purse back the moment she saw the man look at Ruby Jane and say, “You.” JoBelle says it was then she feared he might try to take her daughter.
“I started screaming,” she says, “I freaked out.” Fortunately, he left only with tangible things and the Smiths weren’t physically harmed. JoBelle says Ruby Jane is staying with friends in Austin, battling the flu. “She is really traumatized and I need her to heal,” JoBelle says. “It’s a lot for a young girl to handle.”
While Ruby Jane gets over her illness and what was without a doubt a hugely traumatic event, her mom says she thinks what happened to them was gang related, and the police told her she and Ruby Jane were, in fact, very lucky.
She says besides Ruby Jane's 12-string guitar, which was recovered behind a pawnshop this past weekend, none of the other stolen gear, instruments or valuables, including the violin, have turned up.
One pawnshop owner she spoke with Monday was approached Friday by a group of men who wanted to sell him some items. He believes, after speaking with JoBelle, that everything they showed him belonged to the Smiths. Because he figured it was stolen, he didn’t buy any of it. Monday JoBelle picked up Ruby Jane’s recovered guitar and a merchandise cart that was also stolen, calling it a step in the right direction.
JoBelle says the whole experience made her feel violated but the heinous act perpetrated by one man has also reminded her of the good in people. She says the experience has presented her with little gems of kindness along the way: from the desk clerk at the hotel they went to after the crime, offering them a ride to the DMV to get new drivers licenses so they’d be able to rent a car to get home, to the man standing in line at the DMV giving them some money to help them get back to Austin, to the friend from Austin who drove all the way to Houston and back to bring them home.
She says when she thanked the hotel clerk for his kindness, he said, “I would hope if I was in your situation, someone would do the same for me.”
I asked JoBelle how she feels about the outpouring of support that’s overwhelming her Facebook page. “I mean I’m speechless. Something like this really shows wonderful love around us…because sometimes we do feel lonely being just a mother and daughter. Sometimes it’s hard.”
She’s seen an outpouring of love online and a flurry of calls from people just wanting to know what they can do to help. She says she doesn’t necessarily believe everything happens for a reason but, “There is meaning in everything if you look for the good in it. These things happen. My job is to find joy and goodness in it, and I’ve found support I didn’t even know was there…I feel very loved, and I don’t know what to say.”
She says the best Christmas present she could ask for is a chance to process that love she and her daughter have received, after an event that left her with what she calls, “the most lost feeling I’ve ever had in my life.”
While she continues to believe the possession Ruby Jane holds most dear will be found, she says her main priority is taking care of the person she holds most dear — her daughter.
JoBelle and Ruby Jane will be at a benefit being held for them this Saturday, Dec. 17 from 7 - 10 p.m. at Victory Grill in Austin. It will feature WhoDo; Ruby Jane will perform.
You can also help by donating to Ruby Jane’s Kickstarter campaign. Funds raised will help pay for her new CD. Click here for details.