Jennifer Holliday: A Story of Survival in East Texas
March 1, 2021 ~ By Shari Rose
- Eric Parnell Attacks Jennifer Holliday and Ana Franklin
- Holliday Tries to Convince Parnell That He Saved Her
- Jennifer Holliday’s 911 Call
- Holliday Survives Parnell’s Attack, Faces Aftermath
Jennifer Holliday’s survival story during a horrifying attack in Texas is one of perseverance, quick-thinking, and a refusal to give up. Despite being badly wounded from gunshot wounds, she managed to manipulate her attacker, Eric Parnell, into helping her receive medical attention. This is the harrowing true story of how Jennifer Holliday survived against all odds.
Eric Parnell Attacks Jennifer Holliday and Ana Franklin
On May 29, 2005, Jennifer Holliday and her 18-year-old cousin, Ana Franklin, visited a convenience store in Lufkin, Texas. Holliday, a 27-year-old EMT, had just picked up Franklin from her babysitting gig that evening. When the pair climbed into Holliday’s Ford Explorer and got back on the road, they noticed that a truck parked at the convenience store was now following them.
The truck’s driver was named Eric Stephen Parnell. He drove closely behind the two young women for miles. Suddenly, he shot at Holliday’s car with a shotgun. She pulled over and Franklin called 911 on her cellphone.
Shotgun in hand, Parnell pulled his truck over and approached the two women. At a distance of only a couple feet, he shot into their vehicle. The blast killed Franklin instantly and seriously wounded Holliday in the arm, chest, and neck. Parnell then dragged Holliday into his vehicle as she bled profusely from more than 40 shotgun pellet wounds to her body.
He returned to her Explorer. As she watched the 31-year-old man attempt to move Franklin’s body away from the scene, Holliday eyed the shotgun Parnell left in the front seat of his truck. She spoke about what was going through her mind in a 2009 episode of “I Survived…”:
“Here I’m thinking ‘Hey, I’m fixing to get rid of the only weapon he’s got.’ I took [the shotgun] and threw it out the window, and it landed on the highway,” Holliday said.
Unfortunately, she quickly noticed several more guns scattered throughout the killer’s truck. Shortly after, Parnell gave up trying to move Ana’s body and returned to his vehicle, driving himself and Holliday away from the murder scene.
Parnell Abducts Holliday & Flees the Scene
When Eric Parnell turned onto a backroad off the highway, Jennifer Holliday considered her options.
“I remember trying to decide, ‘Okay, should I try to grab this gun and use it? Or should I – I’m going to die, regardless,’” she recalled. “‘So, should I at least go for it?’ You know, what do you do?”
As Holliday thought about what to do next, Parnell’s behavior became increasingly more erratic and violent: “He would hit me and then he would rage, and then just start laughing … Was he mad, or think we were somebody else?”
Eventually, Parnell pulled over on the empty backroad, dragged Holliday out, and sexually assaulted her. She said that when they were back in the truck, he became a completely different person.
“He would start crying, and then he would start ‘Oh my god, what happened to your arm?’ And then he would go back to just screaming and raving,” she said.
Parnell was growing more and more unhinged before her eyes. But, Holliday started to realize that maybe, just maybe, she could use his madness to her advantage.
Holliday Tries to Convince Parnell That He Saved Her
While bleeding profusely from dozens of shotgun pellets in her arm, chest, and neck, Jennifer Holliday formulated a plan. She began talking to Parnell in an overly affectionate manner as he drove them through sparsely populated backcountry in East Texas.
“[I was] telling him, ‘That was great, that was wonderful, and thank you for this good time’ … pretending to really, really enjoy what had happened – I could definitely tell that was working,” she recounted.
When he talked about her wounds, she fabricated a fake story about a different man that had shot her.
“‘You just picked me up and were going to take me to your house, remember?’” she told him. “And he just looked at me like I was crazy or something. He said, ‘Well no.’ And I was like, “Yeah, thank you so much. You didn’t see that guy, John, that just shot me? That man just shot me and was going to leave me out there on the highway, and thank god you came along and you saved me.’”
Through Holliday’s persistence, Eric Parnell began to genuinely believe her story. That he had actually saved her from another man, and he had nothing to do with her injuries or Franklin’s death.
And as she thanked him over and over for being her hero, she also pressured him to allow her to use his phone.
“I just kept telling him, ‘Aren’t you going to let me use your phone? Because I’m losing a lot of blood here.’ He kept saying ‘I know, you’re bleeding everywhere,’” Holliday said.
While manipulating her attacker, she fashioned a tourniquet with one of his shirts because her clothes were gone. It slowed the bleeding some, but time was not on her side.
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Parnell initially rejected Holliday’s idea of calling 911 from his home, citing the multiple warrants he had out for his arrest. Because less than a year before killing Franklin and kidnapping Holliday, Parnell was charged with domestic violence assault and making terroristic threats.
Holliday kept pushing, adding more details about a fake man named John who had shot her. She insisted that Parnell was her hero, and he needed to let her get medical help.
Jennifer Holliday’s 911 Call
Eventually, Parnell agreed to take her to his house to call 911, but not before threatening her life.
“He said I should stop acting bad, and that I would end up like other people have ended up,” Holliday said. “And that he won’t be responsible for what happens with me.”
When they arrived, Holliday first noticed a small cemetery located in the front of the isolated property. She was terrified, but still managed to keep the ruse going. She walked inside Parnell’s empty home, found his phone, and called 911.
The operator answered, and this is what Holliday said:
Holliday: “Somebody shot me, and this man here helped me on the side of the road.”
Operator: “Someone shot you?”
J: “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.”
[Muffled male voice as Parnell speaks to Holliday]
O: “Okay and where are you, ma’am?”
J: “Please hurry.”
O: “Okay are you from this area, ma’am?”
O: “Okay, let me speak to that gentleman that’s helping you, okay?”
J: “Uh, uh…”
O: [speaking to police officer on her end] “I’ve got another gunshot wound.”
J: “Same one, same one, same one … same one.”
O: “You’re the same—?”
J: “Uh-huh, uh-huh. Please hurry.”
Holliday Persuades Parnell to Speak on 911 Call
By the time Holliday called 911, Lufkin police had already found her abandoned car and Ana’s body. Now, police knew the killer had abducted the other car’s passenger and taken her to his home.
She remained on the phone with 911 operator Stephanie Davidson as they waited for paramedics. Parnell made her tell Davidson that only one ambulance could come to his home. No police officers or other law enforcement were allowed.
Holliday reassured him it was no problem at all, saying, “They’re going to be so happy that you have saved my life. You’re going to be the hero of the day.”
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However, due to the massive amount of blood loss Holliday experienced, she became light-headed and faint. When Davidson asked Holliday for help in finding her attacker’s home, she struggled in describing how to find it.
So, Holliday convinced Parnell to get on the phone and actually speak with the 911 dispatcher. He did, and provided exact directions to his house.
Holliday’s 911 Call Continued
Operator: “Do you think [paramedics] can find it if it’s a long driveway?”
Parnell: “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.”
O: “Okay, they should be able to find it, it’s kind of a ways out there, and it takes them a few minutes to get there is all. How is she doing? Is she getting faint or anything? I know she says she lost a lot of blood.”
P: “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.”
O: “Well you’re doing a great job, okay? The ambulance is not far from you, alright?”
While they continued waiting, Eric Parnell appeared to genuinely believe that he had not shot Jennifer Holliday or Ana Franklin. Holliday said he fully bought into her alternate universe story that made him the hero.
“It was just like he had not done anything. And he really believed this other man had shot me,” she recounted. “He kept saying, ‘Where’d your friend go?’ And I would tell him, ‘She’s at the car, remember? She didn’t want to come. You were just going to bring me, remember?’”
Nearly one hour after Holliday called 911, paramedics arrived at the rural, isolated property near Lufkin, more than 100 miles northeast of Houston. However, they did not approach the home. Over the phone, Davidson told Holliday to walk out of the house and head toward the ambulance.
“When I walked outside, he was right behind me. I remember fixing to walk up this hill, and I wasn’t sure if it was trees, or something moving, and I thought, ‘Well maybe I lost so much blood that I was seeing things.’”
But Holliday wasn’t imagining things. As she walked away from the property, a SWAT team moved through the woods toward Parnell. They rapidly overwhelmed him and took him into custody.
Holliday Survives Parnell’s Attack, Faces Aftermath
Less than one day after the horrific attack, Eric Parnell was charged with first-degree murder, aggravated sexual assault, and kidnapping. During the jury selection process in December 2005, he pleaded guilty to all charges and was sentenced to life in prison.
Jennifer Holliday survived the brutal attack, but she faced an onslaught of expensive surgeries and hefty medical bills afterward. As a direct result of the shooting, she lost her job as an EMT and lost her health insurance. With no public insurance option available at the time, Holliday went into massive debt and could no longer afford surgeries she desperately needed.
Two years after the attack, she continued to deal with serious health issues.
“I still can’t feel the back of my hand at all … I can’t put my hand to my face, I have no fine motor skills,” she said in a 2007 interview with Lufkin Daily News.
By that time, Holliday already underwent five surgeries to repair a hole in her bone and fend off infections from the nearly 40 shotgun pellets still lodged in her body. A 20-inch-long scar runs along the back of her left arm. She said any money she makes goes toward medical bills.
In September 2007, Holliday received some good news. After learning about her story, the CEO of Memorial Hermann Hospital covered all of her medical bills for a critical surgery she could not afford. This operation restored movement to her elbow. Before the surgery, she could not perform simple tasks, such as tying shoes and opening containers.
“My sole goal in life is to get back somewhat as I was before,” she said to The Houston Chronicle after surgery. “I know mentally and physically, I’ll never be able to go back to the job I used to have. I’ll be able to do something, I’m sure.”
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