When 33-year-old Christina Hennigan discovered Thomas James Parker, a serial rapist, hiding in her garage, her first thought was that someone was playing a practical joke on her. It seemed unreal. Even after he put a knife to her throat, she remained in a state of disbelief.
“I didn’t think something like that could ever happen to me,” she tells me over the phone from her new home in Orlando, Florida. Her voice remains steady as she recounts the events of that day. At times she even laughs. It’s as if she’s explaining a horrible situation that happened to someone else, an acquaintance, or an actress in a movie.
July 1, 2009, was an average day for Christina; a Wednesday, her day off from work. She spent the morning running errands. Before heading home, she stopped at the Vons on Mission Gorge Boulevard. She bought laundry detergent to tackle the heap of dirty clothes that had accumulated that week. The police believe this is where Parker spotted Christina and followed her back to her Mission Valley condo in the gated Escala condominium complex.
“I left my garage door open because it was a hot day. I went inside to put the groceries away and came back out to start my laundry.”
That’s when she saw him. From the corner of an eye, she caught a glimpse of Parker lurking in her garage. He wore black gloves.
It wasn’t until Parker told Christina not to say a word or he’d slit her throat, and to get down on the ground, that she realized this wasn’t going to be a home robbery. He hit the button to shut the garage door. That’s when things became real to Christina.
Peter Ruiz was new to Santana High School. He’d been a security guard at the school for only four weeks when he became a victim in the biggest school shooting in San Diego’s history.
It was a Monday afternoon, March 5, 2001. Twenty-two-year-old Peter was in no mood to be at work. He wished his weekend could have lasted a bit longer. He punched in and exchanged small talk with his boss before patrolling the halls. He was making his rounds when he heard what sounded like firecrackers.
Peter recalls: “The kids had just gotten out from their morning break when things went south. Even when I saw kids running and screaming, and heard pop-pop-pop coming from the boys’ bathroom, it didn’t register with me, how bad it was. I just thought someone was being silly in the bathroom.”
Peter entered the bathroom. The first thing he saw was a student lying on the floor. Blood was coming out of the student’s head.
There was another “kid with a gunshot wound. I think he was hit in the leg. Honestly, I can’t remember, it’s a blur, [but he] screamed at me to get out. I thought the kid with the head wound had done it. I thought he’d shot the other kid, and then shot himself. I thought it was a suicide.”
On his way out of the bathroom, Peter radioed his coworkers about the shooting. He had no idea the real shooter was still inside.
Then he heard more shots being fired. “I was directing kids in the hallway, [getting them] out of the way, when I was shot. According to some kids that saw it happen, bullets flew past my head. Apparently, he missed my skull by mere inches.”
Peter was shot three times: once in the right shoulder, once on his right side, and once in the small of his back.
“My body went into shock. I fell to the ground. There was nowhere for me to go to get cover. I was out in the open. It was a terrible feeling.”
The shooter, Charles Andrew Williams, known as Andy, came out of the bathroom.
“From that moment forward, everything went in slow motion. It was very surreal.”
When Thomas Parker shut the garage door, Christina Hennigan’s first thought was that she was going to die, but she would die fighting.
Parker shoved her to the ground. She struggled and started to scream. Thanks to the acoustics in the garage, her voice carried. Christina smacked her head against Parker’s.
“He got scared,” she says. “At that point, he decided I wasn’t worth it. We both ran to open the garage door. ”
They reached it at the same time and fumbled to open it.
When the door popped up, Parker ran out. And Christina made a choice that many people wouldn’t — she followed him.
“I wanted him to be caught. I wasn’t going to let him get away with it. I didn’t want this to ever happen to anyone else.”
Christina is a long-distance runner. She’d completed the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon a few weeks prior to the attack. She knew she could keep up with Parker.
After Parker turned a corner in the apartment complex, he began to walk.
“I think he thought he was going to just blend in with the scenery,” Christina says with a laugh. “I didn’t know what he looked like, but I was sure it was him. He was the only guy out there.”
There was a woman walking her dog. Christina pointed frantically at Parker and shouted that he had attacked her. She told the woman to call 911. The woman stared at Christina and made no attempt to help.
“I think she was scared. I must have looked crazy. My hair was a mess. I was cut underneath the eye during the struggle, and there was blood dripping down my face. It was all over my shirt.” When the woman offered no assistance, Christina felt helpless. “At that point, I decided I was going to have to do this alone.”
Parker started to run again. When Christina caught up with him, he turned around and punched her in the face.
“It startled me. I had no idea how to defend myself. I decided to chase him from a safer distance.”