Seconds to live: Shotgun attack survivor recalls deadly day

Seconds to live: Shotgun attack survivor recalls deadly day

June 6th, 2015 by Shelly Bradbury in Local Regional News

Holly Anderson talks on June 3, 2015, at her best friend's home in Chattanooga about how her husband, Jeffrey Held, shot her twice in the legs with a shotgun in the parking lot of an Ooltewah shopping center in April before turning the gun on himself.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Holly Anderson didn't have any premonition of trouble on April 26 when her estranged husband asked her to meet him outside the store where she worked in Collegedale.

No bad feeling, no pit-of-the-stomach warning. She'd been trying to get him to sign the divorce papers for months, but it wasn't unusual for him to show up at her work. He'd been harassing, stalking and calling her nonstop since she'd moved out in November, after just four months of marriage.

Sometimes he'd beg her to come home, sometimes he'd fight. He was almost always drunk.

To be safe, she told her coworkers at the shop in the Ooltewah Crossing development to give her a reason to come back inside if she wasn't back in five minutes. Call the police, she told them.

Then she walked out to meet Jeffery Held, standing by his red pickup across the parking lot from the store.

"What's your deal?" he asked her.

"I don't have a deal, I'm working," she told him.

Then he pulled a shotgun out of his truck. He leveled it at her, standing just a few feet away.

"Get down on your f****** knees," he said.

"No," Anderson said. She looked him right in the eyes.

He looked shocked, almost.

"What are you going to do, Jeffery, kill me in front of all these people?"

"No," he said, "but I sure as hell am going to do this."

Then he cocked the shotgun and pulled the trigger.

***

Jeffery Held, 38, was sweet, at first.

He was smart, and funny, and great with computers. When Anderson, 24, met him two-and-a-half years ago, they clicked immediately.

For a while, the relationship was good. Held was a jokester and witty. But over time, Anderson realized he was also an alcoholic. He'd go to bed drunk, wake up drunk and keep drinking at 7 a.m.

"It was almost like a Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde kind of personality," Anderson says. "Sometimes when he was drunk he could be really sweet, and then instantly turn and be really mean and cruel."

Holly Anderson uses a walker to move through her best friend's home on June 3, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Holly Anderson uses a walker to move through...

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

He'd break dishes on the floor and then yell at Anderson to clean them up. Once he gave her a black eye with a Bible. But he usually wasn't violent. He might shove her around when he was drunk, but he didn't beat her. It was only after they married that he really turned on her, Anderson says.

"At that point, he would talk to me almost like I was now his property," Anderson says. "Almost like he owned me now. The way that he would verbalize it was very scary. I knew that if I didn't get out when I did, it was just going to get worse."

She filed for divorce in January, but Held wouldn't sign the papers. Instead, he called her work and harassed her coworkers. He called and texted her. Called her friends and family so often that they had to block his number. Once, Anderson was sure he followed her in his car.

He'd give her a necklace one day then demand it back the next.

He turned 38 years old two days before he confronted Anderson in the parking lot.

She remembers him calling her on Saturday, the day before the shooting. He was sweet. Please come home, he said. He wanted to see her for his birthday. No, she told him, just sign the papers.

"I hate you," she said. "Get out of my life."

And then she hung up.

"Maybe that was what pushed him over the edge," she says now. "I don't know."

***

As Held cocked the shotgun for the first time, Anderson reflexively turned just a bit to her right, so her left side was facing Held.

When he pulled the trigger, the shot ripped through her left leg at the knee. As she fell to the ground, she heard him cock the gun again.

She heard the second blast but didn't feel it smash into her right knee. Her body was in shock.

Then she heard him cock the shotgun a third time. He's going to kill me, she thought. So she turned around and looked him in the face. If he was going to kill her, he'd have to look at her while he did it.

But Held put the gun to his own head and pulled the trigger, falling dead beside the red truck.

Bystanders rushed to Anderson as she lay bleeding on the pavement. She pulled her phone out of her bra and called her boyfriend, screaming hysterically. He couldn't understand her, but she screamed over and over, "He shot me. He shot me and killed himself. He shot me, he shot me."

A woman took the phone from Anderson.

She's OK, the woman told Michael Malone, Anderson's boyfriend. The ambulance is on the way.

***

For the first 24 hours, doctors didn't know if Anderson would keep her legs.

She went straight into emergency surgery at Erlanger -- she remembers how weird it felt when they cut off her clothes, remembers complaining when they snipped through the new bra she'd bought just two days before.

Then she woke up after the first surgery in ICU, crying, panicking and grabbing for everybody. The first shotgun blast hollowed out a section of flesh near her left knee, but the second blast did the most damage, severing the tendons above her right knee that control movement.

The bone in her knee was exposed when she got to the hospital, but somehow, the shotgun blasts missed all her major arteries and never actually hit her bones.

Anderson was in the hospital for 17 days. She went through seven surgeries and doctors put 68 staples in her legs.

She found out Held bought the shotgun and ammunition at a Hixson Wal-Mart at 11:30 a.m. on the day he shot her.

His funeral was held while she was in the hospital. She's not sure she would have gone if she had been able.

When she was discharged, Anderson needed 24/7 care, so she and Malone moved in with his mother. Anderson has known his family for years and considers them her second family.

She was in a wheelchair for a while. Now she can shuffle on her feet, slowly, using a walker. She can't put any weight on her right leg, which is contained in a thick splint-like bandage. She tires easily. Needs help showering.

In a few weeks, she'll have one more surgery to so doctors can try to reconnect the tendons in her right leg to her knee. If that works, she should be able to walk again, eventually. She no longer needs someone with her 24/7, and she and Malone hope to move back into their own house either this weekend or next.

April was a particularly rough month for domestic violence in the Chattanooga area. A man shot and killed his estranged lover, his son and himself at a gas station in Varnell, Ga., three days before Held shot Anderson. And on May 8, a Hixson man killed his long-time girlfriend and then himself in their home.

In a three-year span between 2011 and 2013 -- the most recent available data -- more than 40,000 people were victims of domestic violence at the hands of their spouses, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Anderson credits her survival to a bit of luck, the quick response of bystanders and God.

"I know for a fact that if I would have got down on my knees in front of that man, he would've blown my face off," she says. "I think I surprised him when he told me to get on my knees and I told him no."

She also thinks Held would have kept emptying rounds into her if people nearby hadn't rushed so quickly to her aid. She believes Held panicked when he saw the bystanders and he rushed to shoot and kill himself.

Anderson is a survivor, not a victim, she says. She wants other women to know that they can stand up to their abusers, as well. Don't make excuses for the behavior, she says. Get out while you can.

Anderson has flashbacks and nightmares about the shooting. She has good days and bad days.

In her dreams, she sees all the other ways the day could have ended, replayed over and over again.

When she wakes up, she's thankful that it wasn't worse.

Contact staff reporter Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com with tips or story ideas.

Holly Anderson's toes are seen painted at her best friend's home Wednesday, June 3, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn., after she went out to have her nails done for the first time since her husband, Jeffery Held, shot her twice in the legs with a shotgun in the parking lot of an Ooltewah shopping center in April before turning the gun on himself.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

 


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