The residents of Babbling Book Drive in Saginaw, Texas, often noticed two people who roamed the streets alone. One was 6-year-old Alanna Gallagher, a friendly little girl who loved Veggie Tales and the colour purple.1 She was much too young to be outside alone but she could often be spotted on her purple bicycle in pursuit of finding friends.
“Alanna was a gregarious child, known to many neighbours. She was also known to walk the neighbourhood alone, calling on friends to play,” recalled a neighbour. She lived at home with her mother, her father, and her mother’s other boyfriend. They were in a polyamorous relationship and co-parenting Gallagher and her siblings. While the family were mostly well-liked, the fact that they allowed their young daughter to play alone unsupervised raised many questions from neighbours.
The other person who roamed the same neighbourhood was 17-year-old Tyler Lane Holder who lived several doors away. Former classmates and friends of Holder would describe him as a “socially awkward” teenager who often joked about rape and made people feel uneasy.2 “He was the kid that you were always really nice to because you didn’t know if he was going to come shoot up the school,” recalled Mikayla Dawson, one of his classmates. Much like Gallagher, Holder could also frequently be spotted wandering the streets alone.
On the 1st of July, 2013, their paths collided.
On that fateful afternoon, Gallagher had been on her usual pursuit of finding somebody to play with. At around 2PM, she knocked on a neighbour’s door and asked if she could play with their grandson. “She just loves my grandson. She really wanted to play,” recalled the neighbour. The grandson, however, was going to the mall with his grandmother and couldn’t play with Gallagher. She said she would wait for him to get back and continued to wait outside their house. This was the last time she was never seen alive.
Gallagher hadn’t even been reported missing when a couple of boys found her body at Roundrock Drive and Cindy Lane, just a few short miles from her home, at around 7PM that evening. She was partially naked and wrapped up in a grey tarp and a brown leather belt. Plastic bags were wrapped around her head with duct tape around her neck. Her hands and feet had been bound with duct tape and she had been stuffed inside a black trash bag. She had been raped and then suffocated. Her body showed signs of head and face trauma as well as abrasions and bruising on parts of her body including fingertip injuries to her lower abdomen. Her autopsy concluded that at some point either before or after her murder, Gallagher had been immersed in water, potentially to wash away any evidence. Nevertheless, sperm and other DNA was retrieved from the crime scene.3
The body remained unidentified until later on that night when Gallagher was finally reported missing. It was 9:15PM when her mother flagged down a police car to inform them her daughter was gone. Despite this, Holder was reportedly telling people that the body that had been found was Gallagher. As police and neighbours gathered on Gallagher’s street, Holder was acting suspiciously. He was spotted pacing up and down the street.
His peculiar behaviour arose suspicions amongst neighbours and police and a search warrant was issued for his home. Several items were removed from the home and Holder provided a DNA swab. Days later, the DNA test came back as match to that found at the crime scene. In addition, his DNA was found on a belt buckle found at the crime scene and dog hair found inside the plastic bag matched dog hair found inside Holder’s home. Police also retrieved trash bags from his home which matched the trash bag Gallagher was found in.4
When the DNA match was made, police rushed to Holder’s home with an arrest warrant. As they approached the door, Holder said he wasn’t going to speak to them before he produced a handgun from behind him and opened fire on the officers. He shot Arlington Police Detective Charles Lodatto in the groin before being tackled to the ground by another officer. During the scuffle, Holder received a gunshot wound to the head before being apprehended. The officers had hoped Holder would surrender peacefully which is why they didn’t think it be necessary to use a SWAT team to serve the arrest warrant. Both Lodatto and Holder were rushed to hospital where they made a full recovery.
As it soon became known, Holder had lured Gallagher to his home when his mother was out at work. Once inside, he sexually tortured the youngster before strangling her to death with his belt and some plastic bags.5 Alanna Gallagher’s funeral was conducted at Calvary Lutheran Church in Richland Hills and she was subsequently buried at Greenwood Cemetery.
Due to his young age, Holder avoided the death penalty. In 2012, the Supreme Court declared that life sentences without parole were unconstitutional for defendants under 18. Holder pleaded guilty to a murder charge and was sentenced to life in prison. He also pleaded guilty to an attempted capital murder charge for shooting the officer and received a 40 year sentence. Holder must serve at least 50 years before getting a chance at parole.
During his trial, Gallagher’s mother, Laura Gallagher, gave a victim impact statement: “It does not bring her back to us. No matter how much suffering you undergo in prison, it won’t be as much as all the people who knew and loved Alanna have been and will continue to be suffering. I hope you remember this and that you live with shame for what you have done, every day that you live, every day that Alanna is gone from us.”6
- The Dallas Morning News, 28 July, 2013 – “Girl’s Slaying Shatters Quiet Street”
- The Dallas Morning News, 24 July, 2013 – “Alanna Gallagher and a Neighbourhood Troublemaker”
- The Star Telegram, 13 November, 2013 – “Autopsy: Slain Saginaw Girl Had Been Immersed in Water”
- The Dallas Morning News, 28 July, 2013 – “Girl’s Killing Shatters Quiet Street”
- Las Vegas Examiner, 5 September, 2014 – “Alanna Gallagher’s Killer Gets Life in Prison”
- Fort Worth Star Telegram, 4 September, 2014 – “Saginaw Teen Pleads Guilty to 6-Year-Old Neighbour”