In the early morning hours of May 29th, 2005 in an East Texas town, a woman named Jennifer Holliday survived a brutal attack and demonstrated an indomitable will to survive. Her bravery, quick thinking, and sheer will is a perfect example of the lengths the human spirit will go to, to survive.
Jennifer Holliday was a 27-year-old EMT and single mother of a precious 5-year-old son. She lived in a small town in Texas called Lufkin. Recently, her 18-year-old cousin Anna Franklin had moved in with her to help out with her son. The two weren’t only cousins, they were the best of friends, so the living situation was ideal. Jennifer also had her aunt, Anna’s mother, to help out with her son, since Jennifer’s work schedule required long and odd hours.
May 29th, 2005, Jennifer arrived home around 1:00 a.m. exhausted and drained from working a double shift. She laid down in her bed, only to be immediately awakened by a phone call from Anna asking her if she could come and pick her up from a babysitting job. Jennifer begrudgingly got up and drove to pick up Anna.
The girls stopped at a gas station on the way back so Anna could grab a quick snack. Jennifer was exhausted and waited in the car, dreaming of being back in her bed sleeping off her double shift. As Jennifer daydreamed of her bed, she caught the eye of a 31-year-old man named Eric Parnell as he walked by her car and to his truck. The girls left the gas station and continued towards home, and Parnell followed.
Several miles away from the gas station, Parnell pulled up beside them and fired a shotgun into the driver’s side window which hit Jennifer in the arm and sent shrapnel of glass shards into her face. She couldn’t see from all of the blood and was in shock not knowing what happened, she had to pull over. Being shot was her last thought, she just heard the loud blast and thought someone hit her SUV.
Anna was screaming at Jennifer that she had been shot, and got on her phone and called 911 as Jennifer tried to process what was happening. Parnell approached the car and asked the girls if they were alright. He saw and heard that Anna was on the phone with police and she immediately started screaming when she saw him. He calmly walked back to his truck, grabbed his shotgun, and walked back to Jennifer’s SUV. He raised the gun and shot Anna in the head. Parnell seemed to be completely driven and consumed with rage, as he tried to pull Anna’s almost lifeless body across the seat in some attempt at a sexual assault before he left her and took Jennifer.
Parnell put Jennifer in his truck and took her to a back country road where he took her into the woods, stripped her naked, brutally raped her, burned her with a cigarette, and stabbed her in the scalp with an ice pick. Jennifer was losing blood rapidly from both her scalp and her arm, which was barely hanging on by a tendon, but somehow she was still able to asses her situation and formulate a plan.
Something happened after the rape for Parnell, like a light flipped off, he again asked her if she was alright, and told her she was covered in blood. It seemed like he was shocked by the situation. Jennifer saw this as an opportunity, and the only option she had. She told him she had been shot, and that he had saved her. He took his shirt off and wrapped it around her arm. Bravely, Jennifer asked Parnell if he lived close so she could use his phone to call an ambulance. They were in the middle of nowhere, so she knew this was her best option.
Parnell loaded Jennifer back into his truck and started to drive her to his house. Unknowingly, the dispatcher Anna was briefly connected to was able to asses the situation enough to know there was a problem. She tracked the last location of the phone and sent officers out to investigate. When officers arrived at the scene they found the SUV, Anna barely breathing, and the shotgun just left on the pavement. Officers started combing the woods nearby searching for Jennifer.
As Jennifer and Parnell drove to his house, she saw a scene you would only expect to see in a movie, they drove through a cemetery. Eric Parnell lived on Durham Cemetery Road. It was only his and one other trailer on the desolate country road. Once inside the trailer, Parnell gave Jennifer some of his clothes. Jennifer continued to show her gratitude towards Parnell for “saving her” and incredibly convinced him to let her call for an ambulance. This amazing woman was able to remain completely calm while she talked to the 911 dispatcher, making sure not to let Parnell know there was a problem. Because they were in the middle of nowhere, the response time for first responders was going to be 40 minutes. Jennifer had to remain calm, and keep Parnell thinking he was a hero and she was grateful to be with him for 40 minutes. At one point, they even discussed getting married. Can you imagine having to have that type of prolonged interaction with someone who just attacked you?
There is not a released snippet of her 911 call, but the following is snippets from a transcript of the call.
Dispatcher: 911 what’s your emergency?
Jennifer: Um, somebody shot me and this man here helped me on the side of the road.
Dispatcher: Someone shot you?
Jennifer: Uh huh, and my arm is in half right now. And this man right here, this man right here in front of me helped me out.
Dispatcher: Okay, where are you, ma’am?
Dispatcher: Are you from this area, ma’am?
Jennifer: Na uh.
Dispatcher: Okay let me speak to that gentleman that’s helping you…okay? (to an officer in the background) I’ve got another gunshot wound.
Jennifer: Same one. Same one. Same one….Same one.
Dispatcher: You’re the same?
Jennifer: Uh huh, Uh huh. Please hurry!
By this point in the 911 call, the dispatcher had put all of the pieces together and knew that Jennifer was the missing driver of the SUV and she was currently with her attacker. Jennifer had done such an amazing job of convincing Parnell that he was her savior, that he even got on the phone with the dispatcher two separate times to help direct first responders to his home.
Dispatcher: Do you think they can find it if it’s a long driveway?
Parnell: Uh, I don’t know if they can or not, that’s why I want to walk to the end of the road. I don’t know. It’s right before the cemetery.
Dispatcher: Okay, they should be able to find it.
Dispatcher: How’s she doing? Is she getting faint or anything? I know she said she’s lost a lot of blood.
Parnell: She acts completely okay, but I know she’s scared out of her wits. So am I. Because I’m the one that picked her up and I’m scared to death because I got blood from head to toe.
Dispatcher: Well, you’re doing a great job okay? The ambulance isn’t far from you alright?
Jennifer said there were times during the 40-minute wait that Parnell would ask her where her friend was, and she would tell him she decided to wait at the car and not come with them. She would have to tell him this without falling apart and letting him catch on to anything. She was terrified that at any moment Parnell would snap out of whatever state of mind he was in and continue his attack on her. Her perseverance and determination to live were certainly what saved her life.
The ambulance arrived 50 minutes after the 911 call was placed. Because the first responders and law enforcement were well aware Jennifer was with her captor, paramedics couldn’t approach the house until the scene was declared safe, they had to wait on officers to clear the scene. Confused by the ambulance just sitting at the end of his driveway, Parnell walks down and tells the paramedics to come on up and get her, turned and walked back into his home. He was acting like this was a completely normal situation and seemed like he truly believed he saved Jennifer.
Once S.W.A.T. was in position in the woods surrounding Parnell’s trailer, the dispatcher instructed Jennifer to walk outside toward the ambulance. Parnell followed behind her. Jennifer, light-headed and weak from blood loss, thought she was hallucinating as she saw the trees in front of the trailer start to move. The S.W.A.T. team moved from behind the cover of the trees and swarmed Parnell, taking him to the ground as he fought. Jennifer was safe. Sadly, Anna was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Eric Parnell received two life sentences for capital murder, aggravated assault, and kidnapping. The night of the attack, he was heavily intoxicated and trying to reach his ex-girlfriend, who had recently left him after he made violent threats towards her. Enraged he was denied access to her by her father, he went out looking for somewhere to direct his rage. When Parnell spotted Jennifer in her SUV that bared a striking resemblance to his ex-girlfriend’s, his focus was fixed and his mission was inflicting pain on Jennifer and Anna.
Jennifer has had over eight surgeries and still has over 30 shotgun pellets lodged inside her body. She lost all feeling in her hand and most of the mobility of her arm. She is no longer able to work, and lives with the pain of losing Anna every day. In spite of all of that, Jennifer is a survivor, she is a beautiful example of the will to survive and the extraordinary strength we as humans are capable of.
“For the powers of survival, of the will to survive, and to survive as a unique inalienable individual, are absolutely, the strongest in our being: stronger than any impulses, stronger than disease.” – Oliver Sacks