published Sunday, March 31st, 2013

'Wrong place, wrong time’: Chattanooga family recounts horror of knife attack

Allison Meadows talks about the attack during an interview at her home. She is recovering from surgery for her wounds.
Allison Meadows talks about the attack during an interview at her home. She is recovering from surgery for her wounds.
Photo by Doug Strickland.

Glen Meadows was sitting with his 3-year-old nephew Cooper in a rehabilitation facility in Pittsburgh on Monday night while his daughter, wife and Cooper's mom went shopping at Target.

He was hungry, and he couldn't figure out why no one was answering his texts about dinner plans. So when Cooper's mom, Chelsey Stokes, finally called, he picked up nonchalantly.

"What's up, Chelsey?" he said.

"You're going to need to meet me at Children's Hospital," she said. "You know where Cooper had his surgery? You need to meet me there."

"What's wrong?" he asked.

"Glen, you're just going to need to meet me there. Allison's been hurt. She's been stabbed. Just get to the hospital."

Glen handed Cooper to a nurse -- "My daughter has been stabbed, I have to go" -- put the flashers on in the rental car and made the eight-minute drive to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.

He called the worship leader at his church. No answer. He called his brother, told him Allison had been stabbed. Asked him to get people praying.

He went from one desk to another at the hospital, then he ran right into it: 30 doctors and nurses crowded in a room behind a partially closed curtain. His 16-year-old daughter in the middle of it all. Her scream.

Then he collapsed.

•••

Before that, it'd been a normal trip to Pittsburgh for the Meadows family. Born and raised in Chattanooga, Glen; his wife, Sharon; and daughter, Allison, make a trip to Pittsburgh to visit Cooper and Chelsey every six weeks or so.

Cooper is recovering from a triple organ transplant he needed after being born with partially formed intestines. They planned this trip around Allison's spring break at Silverdale Baptist Academy, where she's a sophomore on the softball team.

Sharon, Allison and Chelsey visited the nearby Target about 5:30 p.m. Monday to buy some shampoo. They were in the checkout line when they heard a commotion at the other side of the store. Two men were chasing each other -- one was on a cellphone, and it was hard to tell who was chasing whom.

But it was at least 10 registers away and the store was crowded. They didn't feel threatened. And after a minute or two, it sounded as if the men had left.

"I was like, 'Oh, thank God,'" Sharon said. "Then out of nowhere this guy ran right by me and grabbed Allison's hoodie and took her with him. Just pulled her with him."

The man, later identified by police as 41-year-old Leon Walls, pulled Allison in front of him and faced a small group of men who were trying to stop him.

Chelsey begged the man to let Allison go. Let her go, just let her go.

"He's screaming, 'I'm gonna stab her, I'm gonna stab her,'" Sharon described. "And he did."

He stabbed Allison in the back. Once, twice. Then a man climbed on top of a cash register and launched himself on Walls and Allison. Three other men jumped in and everyone tumbled to the floor.

Walls kept a tight grip on his knife and kept slashing and stabbing. At some point he made a checkmark-shaped slice through Allison's arm. He sliced through one man's nose and mouth. Another rescuer's fingers were cut nearly off.

Chelsey attacked Walls and finally managed to pull Allison away. Target employees ushered them into a break room, locked the door, and used napkins to slow the bleeding. Allison was in shock. She'd lost one of her purple Nike tennis shoes. She was having trouble breathing.

The police arrived and the paramedics followed.

"It's a mother's nightmare," Sharon said.

•••

At Children's Hospital, Glen Meadows woke up on a stretcher with an oxygen mask over his face. He'd been hyperventilating and had fainted. The paramedics told him to breathe.

"I said, 'I'll start breathing if you let me see my daughter,'" he said. "Finally they cleared the path and I saw her and the trauma doctor said she'd be fine, that they'd sew her up and fix her lung."

The stab to the back had collapsed Allison's lung, but it missed her spine. She has too many stitches to count and it will be at least a month before she can throw a softball again, but she should make a complete recovery.

Allison doesn't remember the moment she was stabbed. She remembers being grabbed.

"I didn't know who he was or what he wanted, and I was really caught off guard and surprised," she said. "I remember panicking and being in shock on the ground. I remember picking something up, I think it was my wallet."

After the attack, a police officer found Allison's lost purple shoe and gave it to Sharon. She threw it out.

While Allison was in surgery, Sharon and Glen had to turn off her phone because she was getting so many calls and texts offering support and prayers.

"The support was crazy, out of this world," Allison said. She's got a huge collection of balloons, Teddy bears, flowers and cards. Silverdale Baptist started the hashtag #prayforallison. And after she was released from the hospital Thursday, she arrived back in Chattanooga to find a giant 'Welcome Home' sign draped across her front porch.

"I'm a lot more thankful for being able to breathe now," she said, as she reflected on the experience.

"God saved her life," Glen said. "And we are thankful for all these angels he sent."

He added that the support -- especially from Silverdale Baptist Church -- has been crucial to getting through the last week.

"Every moment when we were just at the end of our wits, we'd just feel that God would bathe us with peace," Glen said.

No one is sure why Walls went on a stabbing spree. He first stabbed a man in the arm outside the Target store, then ran into the store trying to get away. The man who was following him was calling police on his cellphone.

Walls has a long criminal history and now faces charges of attempted homicide, resisting arrest, aggravated assault and other crimes.

"I just hope the district attorney up there puts him away," Glen said. "Because he'll hurt someone again."

Allison said that while she'll be more aware of potentially dangerous situations, she's not scared that it will happen again.

"It was a freak accident," she said.

"Wrong place, wrong time," her mom agreed.

The family stopped in Lexington, Ky., on the way home to shop for some replacement purple Nikes for Allison. Size seven or eight.

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at sbradbury@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6525.

about Shelly Bradbury...

Shelly Bradbury covers police and crime in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She's been with the paper since 2012, working first as an intern and then as a business reporter. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint ...

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