It was the first week of fall semester, 1997. University of Kentucky students Holly Dunn and her boyfriend Chris Maier ducked out of a party and went to talk by the railway tracks near UK.
The horror that happened next would ultimately send a man dubbed the “Railway Killer,” who killed at least 15 people in Kentucky, Florida, California, Texas, Illinois and Georgia, to his death.
Dunn was the only survivor of the murderous march of Angel Maturino Resendiz.
Twenty years later, Dunn is telling her story in a book, “Sole Survivor” (written with Heather Ebert, $15.99, Diversion Books, to be released Nov. 7). Dunn graduated from UK in 2000 and has worked extensively as a motivational speaker and victims’ rights activist.
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But on the night of the Lexington attack, she wasn’t sure she would be alive to tell her story.
After leaving the party, Dunn and Maier talked for a few minutes at the railway tracks. Then a man appeared from behind an electrical box. The man demanded their money.
Dunn and Maier didn’t have money. They offered their credit cards, their ATM cards, their car. The man, apparently armed with an ice pick or screwdriver, tied them up and gagged them. Dunn freed herself from her gag and got her hands free and tried to help Maier.
Then the attacker returned with a large rock, which he dropped on Maier’s head. He raped Dunn, battered both sides of her head with a board, and left her for dead.
Dunn managed to make it to a nearby house. Her jaw and eye socket were broken, she was covered in blood, but she lived.
Maier died. Dunn writes in her book about hearing Maier’s death rattle, mistaking it for a sign of life and asking the killer to turn his head so that he did not choke. He then told her that Maier had died.
Dunn writes in the book that during the attack she thought “I’m gonna remember your face, your scars, your tattoos, and I’m not going to forget. Because if I live through this, I will get you.”
Dunn also writes that she dug her fingernails into the ground, trying to deposit enough DNA to leave a trace of her presence if the man moved her. She recalls the sound of two or three trains passing on the tracks while she was being raped. She wondered why no one in the trains saw her.
She bled so much from her wounds, the book says, that when her father arrived at UK Hospital he thought she had dyed her hair red. Dunn’s sister had to explain that all the red was from blood.
Dunn recovered from her wounds. She went to Texas to testify in the penalty phase of Resendiz’s trial after he was found guilty of the 1998 murder of Claudia Benton, a pediatric neurologist. Resendiz was sentenced to death and was executed by lethal injection in Huntsville, Texas, on June 27, 2006.
Dunn went on to marry and have two sons. She is a speaker and trainer as well as spokeswoman for Holly’s House, an Evansville sexual abuse and domestic violence advocacy center that she cofounded.
In a telephone interview, Dunn said that while it was difficult being in Lexington right after the attack — “I would have triggers that would cause me to have cold sweats” — her anxiety about the city eventually went away.
It’s the same with railroad tracks. Now she associates railroad tracks with her son, who loves Thomas the Tank Engine.
“I think I have distanced myself from it as time has gone on,” she said, although she credits recounting the experience with helping keep the stories of the other victims alive. “It has become more about other victims’ stories as time has gone on.”
That experience, she said, is “more healing for me than it hurts me in any way.”
She focuses on “the good that comes from when I’m speaking and all the good things that have occurred since then.”
Dunn said that each time she speaks, no matter how large the group, she takes questions. You really can ask her about anything, she said: “I’ve been asked everything you can imagine.”
If you go
Holly Dunn Pendleton
What: Discussing her book, “Sole Survivor,” at two Lexington locations.
When: Nov. 28, 7 p.m.
Where: Barnes and Noble, 1932 Pavilion Way
Also: University of Kentucky, 7 p.m. Nov. 29. Location TBA.
Read more: CBS News provides selected excerpts from the book at Cbsn.ws/2yJO2EI.