It started with a knock.
Ashley Ware thought the Schwan's man might be at the door. Instead, an unfamiliar guy asked to use the phone. Then he asked for a ride.
Ware said no. It was about 9 p.m. and she was getting ready to leave for her nursing job.
The guy had other ideas. He pulled out a gun.
"You're giving me a ride," he said.
Soon, the 23-year-old Fargo woman was in her car with a man who first demanded she drive him to the Moorhead Mac's store, then threatened to rape and kill her behind the row of businesses on Highway 10.
But Ware fought him off. Police say Ware probably saved her life - and the lives of two others - by acting quickly and decisively.
"You don't tell a girl that you're going to rape her and kill her," Ware said Monday in an exclusive interview with The Forum. "You just don't. No way. Your girl instincts kick in."
Ware chatted with her kidnapper as she drove him east from her apartment near downtown Fargo. He said he moved here from the Twin Cities and had once robbed a bakery because he was short of cash. Ware, trying to create a situation in which her attacker did not feel vulnerable, asked if he got any doughnuts. The kidnapper told her to drive carefully so she didn't get pulled over by police.
She continually met yellow traffic lights that turned red, angering her kidnapper. "I said, 'You picked the wrong girl to kidnap because my friends tell me I'm a bad driver,' " she said. Ware said she was trying to create a therapeutic relationship, a healing skill she learned in her nursing studies.
Her kidnapper, whom police later identified as Vincent Paul Degidio Jr., had her park in a lot next to Mac's. He ordered her to come with him. "I just thought, 'Oh, this guy is for real,' " Ware said. She began to plan an escape, praying to God: "You tell me when, you tell me where, I'll do it." The two began walking along a fence through a muddy field to the back of the businesses. He said he was taking her to a nearby RV. "I'm going to rape you and then I'm going to kill you," Ware recalled Degidio saying.
The man walked five or six feet ahead of her. She believes he assumed she would follow because she had been friendly to him. And she did follow him for a while. They soon arrived at a gate. Degidio walked through first, and Ware saw a chance. She slammed the gate shut behind him, then ran in a zigzag pattern in case he began shooting.
She headed toward a frontage road next to Highway 10, toward visibility and possible safety.
"I just can't believe he didn't shoot me," she said. "I was expecting a pop in the back. I really was." Instead, he caught her, putting the gun to her belly and demanding to know why she ran. "Well, because you told me you were going to rape me," Ware said she told him. "Wouldn't you run if somebody told you that?"
They were in a parking lot near O'Reilly Auto Parts, another business off Highway 10, hiding between two cars. He said they were going back. But Ware pretended she was having an asthma attack and was going to throw up. "He didn't know what to do," she said. Ware did. She booked it to O'Reilly. The door was locked, but two employees were inside.
"I mouthed the word, 'Gun,' and I made the gun signal with my hand," she said. An employee let her in. But Degidio got in, too. Ware said he then held her and the two employees at gunpoint.
She ran behind a desk, then to the back to search for an escape. She found a closed garage door, but no other way out. Her kidnapper told Ware and the employees to move into a small room and he demanded money. The employees complied. Meanwhile, Ware stood outside the room, looking for something to hit him with. She saw plastic tubing but nothing else. Then he ordered the three of them in the room again and said he would kill them because he didn't want evidence. Employees had said there were no cameras, Ware said.
"So then I thought, 'No way am I going to die at 23 years old, going to let this punk take my life.' "
Ware kicked the gun out of his hand. It didn't go far. She attacked him as he grabbed the gun again, working to stabilize his right hand and keep the barrel pointed away from her. Ware kneed him. She bit his shoulder, elbowed his ribs. Using her right hand, she put pressure underneath his nose, as she had once been told to do if ever attacked. Ware said she then yelled for help, but no one came. Her attacker pistol-whipped the right side of her head and ran. "I don't know what would have happened to the three of us if one of us didn't do something," Ware said. She got some paper towels, applied pressure to the wounds on her face, and waited for police. Degidio later exchanged gunfire with police and was shot. He remains hospitalized and faces a slew of charges.
Ware, a 2006 Miss North Dakota USA runner-up, said she no longer lives in her Fargo apartment. She said despite her terrifying ordeal, Degidio came off as a sad, lonely person who didn't know what he was doing. "I'm not mad at him," she said. "He doesn't know any better. I just hope he finds God, that's all I can say."