LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — As a college student, Holly K. Dunn survived a savage attack by a rail-riding serial killer who left her for dead after her boyfriend was beaten to death. Twenty years later, Dunn is a wife, mother and author of a book retelling her tragedy in hopes of inspiring resilience in others.
Dunn's life changed forever in August 1997 when Dunn and Chris Maier were attacked by Angel Maturino Resendiz — the notorious "Railroad Killer," linked to at least 15 murders and executed in Texas in 2006. Dunn and Maier were students at the University of Kentucky and the two were on their way home from a party in Lexington, Kentucky.
Dunn overcame the attack to graduate from UK in 2000, but instead of joining her family's hotel business, she became an advocate for victims of sexual assault and other violent crimes.
Now her story of survival and healing is recounted in "Sole Survivor." Dunn said the book's title has special meaning since she's the only known survivor of an attack by Resendiz.
Her message to other victims: "Don't let this destroy you. You can get through this, and there can be life after it does. You can have a happy life. But it does take work."
Dunn, 40, is back in Kentucky this week to promote the book and talk about how she overcame the trauma of being stabbed and raped and having her boyfriend murdered.
"I hope it's inspirational to them," Dunn said in a phone interview Tuesday. "Everybody's been through something. Yes, my story is very unique. But everybody's been through brokenness. ... If you know that you can go through that brokenness but you can be OK and you can live a happy life, that's what my book's trying to tell them.
"If you're happy in your life, then you've survived, you've thrived."
Dunn, the mother of two boys, ages 1 and 5, said she reached "an emotional point" where she was able to write the book with Heather Ebert, a friend and writer. But there were lots of tears along the way, she said.
As part of her healing, she sought out books from survivors of attacks. Dunn wanted to do the same for other victims by telling her own story.
"When I was going through my healing, I needed to know that I was normal," she said. "I needed to hear that everything you're going through is OK. It's OK to feel that way."
Dunn became a motivational speaker and activist. She co-founded Holly's House, an advocacy center for victims in her hometown of Evansville, Indiana.
After the attack, Dunn spent five days in the hospital. She suffered a broken eye socket, a broken jaw and cuts to her head and face. The emotional healing took much longer.
"For a long time, I avoided railroad tracks any way I could," she said. "And anytime I heard the sound of a train, I just kind of shut down."
Dunn and Maier were attacked while walking along railroad tracks.
She remembers her 21-year-old boyfriend as a "larger than life, gregarious" theater major who liked wrapping his friends in bear hugs. Maier was killed with a 50-pound (23-kilogram) rock.
Her attacker was executed in Texas for the slaying of a physician during the deadly spree that earned Resendiz a spot on the FBI's Most Wanted list.
Dunn said she forgave her attacker. "I did that for myself," she said. "So I let all those bad feelings go with him."