Mission Valley's Christina Hennigan, the 33-year-old marathon runner who ended a string of home invasion robberies and sexual assaults with a headbutt, was honored Thursday night at the Rotary Club of San Diego's Salute to Local Heroes. Then she told her story for the first time.
Six months ago, Hennigan fought off Jim Parker, a 39-year-old man who attacked her with a kitchen knife. Then she chased him through the streets of San Diego until two off-duty Border Patrol Agents wrestled him down. Parker was later tied to three rapes through DNA evidence and police suspected Parker in three other sexual assaults.
“Nobody should have to go through this," Hennigan said. "I can only imagine what the victims went through, the real victims. So much more than what I went through."
Hennigan's heroics occured last summer, when San Diego police were searching for a suspect in a string of sexual assaults. The man's method was always the same -- he would follow a woman home from a grocery store and then attack her in an open garage.
On July 1, the man picked Hennigan, an avid runner who usually runs at least 35 miles per week. He surprised her inside her garage at the Escala Condominium Complex and threatened her with a knife.
“Basically, he put a knife to my throat and told me to not say or shout anything out, put my hands behind me back, and so I did,” Hennigan said.
While Hennigan was on the ground in the garage, the door now shut, she noticed that her attacker had put the knife down and started fumbling for zip ties to tie her hands.
That's when she made her move.
“I jumped up and smacked heads," she said. "I startled him and startled myself. He took off running and I started running after him. I didn't want him to get away. He wasn't going to do this to anyone else.”
Hennigan was bleeding but she never gave up the chase -- even though, at one point, the man turned and punched her.
“I was saying, 'Call 911!' It was a high-pitched shrill,” she said.
Neighbors came to help and called police.
As the suspect tried to cross Fenton Parkway and Friars Road, an off-duty Border Patrol Agent saw the suspect running and chased him down. A second off-duty Border Patrol Agent saw the incident and helped until police officers arrived.
San Diego police officers arrested the man and identified him as Parker, a Tierrasanta resident and Little Italy businessman. DNA evidence linked Parker to three sexual assaults over a 13-month period, police said.
Two days after his arrest, Parker hung himself with a sheet in his jail cell, according to police.
Hennigan wasrecognized Thursday for her courage at the Rotary Club of San Diego’s Salute to Local Heroes.
“Everything brings back emotions with this,” she said, wiping away tears as she sat with her husband Matthew.
The couple just celebrated their third anniversary, and Hennigan is now pregnant.
“She feels she just did what she needed to do, but I really hope and I think it empowers people to defend themselves,” Matthew Hennigan said. “ There's mixed feelings about whether you want to run the person down. In this situation it worked.”
Christina Hennigan believes exercise gives people the physical and mental ability to meet challenges.
“I'm just doing what a lot of people -- or a lot a lot of my friends -- would do, but I know it's not what everyone would do,” she said.