'Not Your Normal Victim:' Justice Association Hosts Railroad Killer Survivor Holly Dunn

Holly Dunn spoke about her experiences before an audience of about 100 students, most of them criminology majors, on Tuesday night. The Justice Association, a professional organization for students interested in criminal justice careers, collaborated with the Penn State Department of Criminology and Sociology to arrange Dunn’s appearance.
Published: Mar 20, 2018
'Not Your Normal Victim:' Justice Association Hosts Railroad Killer Survivor Holly Dunn

Image: Courtney Taylor

At 20 years old, Holly Dunn never expected to become the only known survivor of an infamous serial killer. Now, twenty years later, she said her sexual assault and attempted murder lead her to her "passion" — and everything she does today.

Dunn spoke about her experiences before an audience of about 100 students, most of them criminology majors, on Tuesday night. The Justice Association, a professional organization for students interested in criminal justice careers, collaborated with the Penn State Department of Criminology and Sociology to arrange Dunn’s appearance.

Justice Association President Brittany Miraldi said Dunn offers an often overlooked perspective to students studying criminology.

“We hear about these things when studying criminology, but it’s hard to conceptualize what it’s at arm’s length,” Miraldi (senior-criminology and political science) said. “Hearing from someone who goes through a traumatic event puts into perspective why we’re trying to make a difference.”

On the night of the attack, Dunn, her boyfriend and two friends left a University of Kentucky fraternity party to socialize along a remote stretch of railroad tracks. The friends later returned to the party, leaving the couple to continue their walk.

When the serial killer emerged from behind an electrical box, he demanded money from Dunn and her boyfriend. But, Dunn quickly realized he had no interest in robbing them.

“It didn’t seem that strange at first,” Dunn said. “When you encounter someone, you don’t think of the evil they can possess.”

Dunn said their assailant tied their hands and feet together, gagging them with T-shirt strips. He smashed Dunn’s boyfriend’s head with a heavy rock, then sexually assaulted Dunn and hit her face repeatedly with a board. During the assault, Dunn recalls trying to engage the man in conversation, hoping he would spare her life. She also tried to tear off parts of her fingernails to leave signs of her presence.

Several hours later, Dunn left to get help, her blonde hair stained red with blood.

“I remember thinking, ‘Thank you for leaving me here alive,’” Dunn said. “I’ve been able to take this terrible thing and find the good in it.”

Dunn devoted the remainder of her speech to detailing her healing process and her impressions of the serial killer’s surrender, trial and execution. She said she became “like a sister” to the investigating detective and she benefited from an “amazing support system.”

Only one month after the attack, Dunn returned to class to immerse herself in the anonymity provided by thousands of other students.

Dunn later discovered that she was attacked by the Angel Maturino Resendiz, popularly known as the “Railroad Killer.” Before his surrender in the United States, Resendiz would kill 15 people in total, often murdering his victims beside railroad tracks.

At Resendiz’s trial in Texas, Dunn testified against him, crying several times on the stand while recounting everything she remembered about that night.

Despite the initial difficulty of telling her story, Dunn said she considers storytelling one of the most effective ways of recovering from trauma.

“When you talk about it, it loses its control over you,” Dunn said. “It becomes something outside of you.”

To cope with survivor’s guilt after watching her boyfriend die, Dunn said she revisited his favorite places and activities in what she describes as “a very unconventional healing.” Although she joined a sexual assault survivors’ support group, Dunn never sought therapy or counseling.

Dunn said she now thinks often about personal safety because she learned tragedies can happen to anyone. Dunn suggested that students learn self-defense, carry a gun if necessary and always stay in groups of four or more.

“Make decisions that keep things like this from happening,” Dunn said. “I’m a big believer in self-defense.”

During the question and answer session, Dunn spoke about no longer being afraid other triggers and speaking with the families of Resendiz’s other victims, among other related topics. Some students stayed behind to purchase signed copies of Dunn's book, "Sole Survivor: The Inspiring True Story of Coming Face to Face with the Infamous Railroad Killer."

In response to a question about her emotions after Resendiz’s execution, Dunn said she felt relief and closure knowing her attacker could never return to hurt her.

“The anger, revenge and other things I felt were caused by him, and they died with him,” Dunn said. “[His death] helped me get to a place where [the negative emotions] didn’t get me anymore.”

Trent Uhlemann said hearing Dunn speak gave him a greater understanding of the types of crimes featured in true crime documentaries, a type of media which he said inspired him to study criminology.

“You hear stories like this all the time, but you don’t get the perspective of the victim,” Uhlemann (freshman-criminology) said. “I’m glad I heard [Dunn] speak because I know more about what it’s like.”

Article posted from the Daily Collegian