ST. GEORGE — Whitnie Sullivan, the 21-year-old pharmacy student who was slashed across the face and throat by a knife-wielding stranger earlier this month in Pennsylvania, is now back home with family members in Southern Utah as she continues to recuperate from the attack.
In her first media interview since returning to Utah on July 22, Whitnie Sullivan sat down with St. George News Tuesday afternoon and shared her thoughts about the incident, which occurred the evening of July 3 just outside a Walgreens in Erie where she was employed as a pharmacy technician.
The events of that fateful evening three weeks ago remain vividly etched into her mind.
“I remember the attack so well, like it’s crystal clear, which isn’t totally normal for traumatic experiences like that. Most people black it out, but now, like, I can remember every moment. So, I just kept replaying.”
Whitnie Sullivan had been heading to Walgreens to pick up an extra shift of a few hours at her manager’s request.
“I said, ‘yeah, sure, I’ll come in.’ So, I got to work that night and I parked around the building, to leave the front open for patrons. I was walking up the sidewalk into Walgreens and I saw a gentleman just kind of hugging the wall on the inside, and I was probably about 5, 8 feet from him and he was probably about 10 feet from the door.
“I just kind of looked up at him, just gave him a half smile, a country nod. And I looked back down because I had my keys and my phone in my hand. I looked back down, and as I was passing him, right about when I got parallel to him, he yelled, ‘You bitch!’ at me and he sliced my throat.”
The alleged attacker, who was arrested by police at the scene a short time later, reportedly used a box-cutter utility knife to cut the left side of Whitnie Sullivan’s face and neck.
A couple seconds after the man cut her, she said, she emitted what bystanders called a “blood-curdling scream.”
“The next thing that I really remember is I had run from him, most of the way through a parking stall, and I kinda tripped and landed on my knee.”
She then remembers her hand coming up to her bleeding throat.
“I remember thinking, OK, like there’s a lot of blood coming out of my neck. … I need to put pressure on it.”
The next several minutes were critical, Whitnie Sullivan said, crediting her survival to the quick-thinking actions of several bystanders who stepped in to assist. One man stepped in to distract the attacker and get him to move away from Whitnie Sullivan. One woman immediately called 911 while another woman offered comfort and reassurance.
Shortly thereafter, firefighters and EMTs arrived and applied gauze bandages to her wounds and prepared her for transport to University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Hamot, where she underwent reparative surgery.
Whitnie Sullivan said she received top-notch medical care during her stay in the hospital.
“Oh yeah, they were amazing. The nurses, the doctors … I think the trauma surgeon – she came in and said, it’s one thing when a bad guy gets hurt by another bad guy …, it’s something totally different when it’s an innocent girl that gets attacked.”
Whitnie Sullivan has been healing remarkably quickly.
“I got better so much faster than any of them were predicting,” she said, crediting her recovery to her positive attitude and the love and support she’s received from her family, friends and many caring members of the community.
Whitnie Sullivan’s parents, Shane and Rachelle Sullivan, flew to Pennsylvania the day after the attack to be with their daughter and assist during her recovery. She is the fourth of the St. George couple’s five children and a 2014 graduate of Desert Hills High School.
And while she hasn’t yet had any anxiety attacks related to her experience, Whitnie Sullivan said, she’s made an appointment with a counselor just in case.
“We’ll go in and see a trauma counselor just so that if something does happen later down the road, if something does trigger this traumatic experience, then I’ll have someone I can call that I’ve spoken to who has firsthand knowledge of what happened to me.”
Meanwhile, Whitnie Sullivan’s accused attacker is facing attempted murder charges in connection with the incident. The alleged assailant, identified by authorities as 30-year-old Steveland Robinson, reportedly has a documented history of mental illness. A preliminary hearing scheduled for last week in Erie, Pennsylvania, was postponed when Robinson’s defense attorneys requested a psychological competency evaluation be performed.
Whitnie Sullivan said she isn’t mad at Robinson, although she expects she’ll eventually have to testify against him in court.
“I really don’t have a lot of anger for my attacker,” she said. “I think I more so feel bad for him. I mean, we don’t really know where he stands mentally but, whatever happened, he basically just screwed over his life. So I don’t know, I feel bad that people hit that point.”
She sensed nothing amiss when she first encountered her assailant, Whitnie Sullivan said. Although the man was a stranger to her, he looked and seemed like “a normal guy.”
There were no red flags that went off in my mind,” she said. “I mean, his outfit was clean. He didn’t look homeless.”
In addition, she said, the attack happened in a well-traveled public area in “a good side of town” while it was still daylight.
“An attack like that, there was absolutely nothing I could have done to prevent it.”
Rachelle Sullivan called her daughter “the luckiest unlucky person we’ve ever met.”
For example, Rachelle Sullivan said, not only did the cuts themselves narrowly miss Whitnie Sullivan’s carotid artery and jugular vein by 2 millimeters, the blade neither severed key facial nerves and muscles nor did it damage her eyeball.
“There’s four different things that could have (happened) that could have made lasting injuries,” Whitnie Sullivan added in agreement.
“Everything that needed to happen, happened,” said her mother. “Everybody was in the right place at the right time. I mean, like I say, for being as unlucky as she was, there’s been a lot of blessings come out of it.”
Whitnie Sullivan plans to spend a couple more weeks with family members in Utah before heading back to Pennsylvania to eventually resume her studies. School officials at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine have been working with her to ensure she can pick up where she left off, and Walgreens has also been offering her similar assurances and support regarding her employment.
While virtually all of her medical expenses to date have been covered by insurance, Whitnie Sullivan said, generous donations are helping ensure she will be able to pay her bills and living expenses until she is able to return to work. A GoFundMe campaign has already raised more than $4,000, and additional donations have been made directly to America First Credit Union in her name.
Whitnie Sullivan just finished her first year in the college’s pharmacy program, she said, and she hopes to become a licensed registered pharmacist within the next two years.
The Sullivan family said they are grateful for the “amazing” level of support received from residents in both the St. George and Erie communities.
“Everybody has just been phenomenal in wanting to help,” Whitnie Sullivan said.
“I’m grateful for the bystanders that stepped in and … basically that I’m still here,” she said.
Ed. note: St. George News has not verified information provided in connection with fundraising accounts mentioned in this article and does not assure that monies deposited to the accounts will be applied as described. Those considering contributions are advised to consult with their own professionals for tax advice and investment risks.
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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.