December 23, 2011 9:30:00 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
Just when it's needed most, there's no place like home -- at least for 17-year-old Ruby Jane Smith and her mother, JoBelle Smith. Two weeks after being carjacked and robbed at gunpoint in Houston, Texas, the Columbus natives are home for Christmas.
"When something happens, we all head back home, don't we?" said JoBelle Wednesday, from the North Columbus home of her parents, Dr. Perrin and B.J. Smith. "Our family is very strong, and it just helps when family gathers together."
Teen fiddle prodigy Ruby Jane and her mother relocated to Austin, Texas, three years ago to pursue Ruby Jane's professional music career. Near midnight Dec. 8, after a show in Houston, mother and daughter were stunned when a young, lone male reached through the window of their 2004 Chevy Trailblazer with a gun as JoBelle attempted to enter a security code at a gated complex where the two were to stay overnight with friends.
After forcing the Smiths out, the perpetrator fled in the vehicle, stealing all of Ruby Jane's most prized musical instruments, JoBelle's camera and video recording equipment, purses, jewelry, cash and new cellphones. Christmas gifts already packed for Mississippi were lost in the heist as well.
"You see people with guns on TV, but when it's happening to you, it's surreal," Ruby Jane said. "You think, 'This can't be happening.' Sometimes I think it's just starting to set in."
The young songwriter remembers feeling numb during the robbery.
"I was kind of in shock, but when he was gone, I immediately went into a kind of survival mode," she said. The worst fear, at least -- that one or both would be kidnapped or harmed -- was allayed.
"Being back in Columbus with family for a while is good for us," JoBelle remarked. "This is a place we feel comfort and strength. ... and where Ruby Jane can have her sweet friends around her."
Intense canvassing of Houston pawn shops has yielded some results. Ruby Jane's 12-string Gibson guitar was found next to a trash bin behind a shop in southeast Houston, presumably stashed there for unknown reasons by the thief.
The shop owner had been approached by a group of young males in two dark SUVs wanting to sell instruments. He suspected the equipment might be stolen, however, and passed on the transaction.
"We know these things are out there, and we're not going to give up," stated JoBelle
The Smiths most want to recover a violin custom-made by master luthier Jonathan Cooper. A plate inside is inscribed "Made for Ruby Jane."
"My mandolin, microphone, pedals, lots of cords, the camera and video equipment, all that's still missing," Ruby Jane emphasized.
Houston police recovered the Trailblazer, which had been abandoned in the parking lot of a Jack in the Box restaurant.
The Smiths have been overwhelmed by support since the incident.
Two Austin shows Ruby Jane was booked to play Dec. 17 and 18 were quickly retooled as benefits by organizers. An official benefit is being planned for January by Ray Benson of six-time Grammy winners Asleep at the Wheel, a band the teen fiddler has frequently worked with.
"People have been so kind and helpful, giving me gear, donating and even just reaching out saying they're thinking about us," said Ruby Jane. "It makes me feel that the next time a friend is in need, I'll know how much it means to reach out."
An online kickstarter page (kickstarter.com/projects/rubyjane/ruby-jane-to-record-new-music/posts) was set up in November to allow supporters to donate toward Ruby Jane's next CD-recording project is now drawing contributions toward purchasing new gear as well.
Within days, mother and daughter will next head to Dallas, to work with Asleep at the Wheel. But until then, they say, it's good to be home with family and friends for Christmas and focus on something besides the carjacking, which has spawned widespread coverage in Texas music media.
"This is Columbus; this is where my family is, and it recharges my batteries," JoBelle emphasized. "I'm just really proud that our family doesn't pull apart; we pull together."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.