Nearly nine months after Holli Jeffcoat, 18, was found murdered in her Northeast Lubbock County home, her body burned, her throat slit, and her uterus removed, the pain of her death is still vivid for her family members.
Much of the information about what happened to Holli has been held back for ongoing criminal charges. While her family waits for more information, they hope that Holli’s life won’t be forgotten and that her death might inspire changes to help other children from going through the same tragedy.
Holli’s uncle, Ronny Lemmond, who runs the Justice for Holli Facebook page explained that in the months since her death, he’s wondered a lot about what could help protect other victims of abuse.
“It’s not just me wondering, people actually get on Justice for Holli and tell me their stories, so I know it happens,” Lemmond said. One of his greatest concerns is that he’s heard stories about many kids who didn’t know where to ask for help.
Lemmond said the Justice for Holli Facebook page has been a reminder for him of just how many people are victims of abuse and violence. He hopes that Holli’s story can inspire changes that will prevent other people from going through the same pain.
In July, a grand jury indicted Holli’s step-father James Holland and mother Debi Bryant Holland for capital murder in the February 10 deaths of Holli and her unborn child. The court documents for the grand jury indictments detail that James is believed to have continuously sexually abused both Holli and her younger sibling, and that Debi knew about the abuse and allowed it to continue.
Holli was a special-needs student at a a Co-Op school in Lorenzo whose teachers remembered for her upbeat attitude and school spirit. Teachers reported that Holli’s mental age was roughly 6 or 7 years old.
Amid massive recent changes in Texas Child Protective Services and Department of Family Protective Services systems, the question remains for her family members; could changes in the system help other children or adults from meeting the same violence and abuse Holli did?
EverythingLubbock.com has requested information about the CPS cases related to Holli, most of those requests have been denied including information about Holli’s case and the DFPS officials who worked on her case. We requested information about whether DFPS employees were disciplined or terminated as a result of Holli’s case, those requests were denied.
CPS spokesman Paul Zimmerman explained that outside of the information they’ve already released about Holli’s case, the department is not at liberty to release anything else. Zimmerman added that the department will be launching an Office of Child Safety Review on her case, which will look at the specifics of what happened in investigating Holli’s case.
A media gag order was issued in May for Holli’s case, then a supplemental gag order was issued including the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. Due to both gag orders, most people with connections to the case and some officials with no direct ties to the case declined to interview with EverythingLubbock.com about the case.
The timeline of Holli’s outcry about the abuse she’d experienced makes her family members wonder: could something have been done to prevent her death?
Court documents show that DFPS received an intake with information from Holli’s school on January 29 stating that James Holland was sexually abusing Holli and that Holli was pregnant by James. The intake suggested that James would abuse Holli when he would pick her up from the bus stop and that Holli was afraid to go home from school out of fear that she or her younger sibling would be abused.
The report also stated that Holli had told her mother about the sexual abuse and Debi asked Holli not to tell anyone because they wouldn’t have anyone to pay the bills. Additionally, it stated that a year ago, Holli had told Debi about sexual abuse from James and Debi kicked James out of their home at that time.
According to CPS removal documents for Holli’s younger sibling, a CPS investigator responded to this call for Holli on January 29. At the time Debi told officials she had kicked James out of the home and agreed to not allow him to have any contact with her children and to cooperate with the investigation.
A local law enforcement official told the CPS investigator that on the night Holli made her outcry, January 29, he and Holli’s school called CPS and an investigator came out to the school . At that time they realized because Holli was 18, Adult Protective Services would need to be contacted. The law enforcement officer said that the group contacted James and told him that he couldn’t be in the home with Holli and her sibling, and that James agreed, later notifying them he had left the home.
On February 2, a CPS investigator received the report and had a forensic interview set up for Holli’s sibling, then contacted Adult Protective Services about Holli’s case. The CPS investigator was told that a forensic interview had been set up for Holli the next day.
On February 2, Holli’s sibling was interviewed by the Children’s Advocacy Center, in that interview the sibling didn’t make an outcry of abuse or neglect, but the sibling did make an outcry in an interview months later.
A medical test that day determined Holli was 12 weeks pregnant.
On February 3, Holli was interviewed by the Children’s Advocacy Center, where it was found she made a “consistent and credible” outcry that she was being abused by and was pregnant by James
CARE exams were scheduled for both Holli and her sibling on Feb 4. Holli’s sibling refused the exam, calling Holli a liar. The next date listed on the report is February 10 when the CPS investigator was called by the sheriff’s office asking for more after Holli’s sibling found Holli dead. The investigator later found out that Holli had been murdered.
The question remains, what happened between February 4 and February 10? The answer may not be clear until the case goes to trial.
Interviews with CPS and law enforcement showed that Debi applied for a protective order on February 2 but continued to see James, and allowed James to have contact with her children.
The court documents from February stated that there is conflicting information leading up to the circumstances of Holli’s homicide, which led DFPS to place Holli’s sibling in foster care on February 10.
On March 10, Holli’s sibling made an outcry of being sexually abused by James, roughly 2-5 times per week over the past 2 – 3 years. Holli’s sibling stated in that interview that James picked them up from school January 30, while he was supposed to be barred from seeing Holli and her sibling.
A CPS Spokesman previously said that Holli’s family has an extensive history of cases with the department.
In a previous interview with EverythingLubbock.com Paul Zimmerman stated that Holli’s case was handled by both Adult Protective Services and Child Protective Services.
“I wouldn’t get caught up in the APS part,” Zimmerman advised EverythingLubbock.com during an interview. “Because Holli had just turned 18 and so just because she had turned 18 it had barely transferred over, the bulk of the case is CPS.”
Court records show that CPS had reason to believe Holli was being abused as early as 1998, when she would have been an infant.
“I wasn’t out there a whole lot, you know we would come around through the holidays and through birthdays, so I really wasn’t in the house a lot,” Lemmond explained. “But you do kinda wonder where CPS is at or was at, like you kinda wonder why didn’t they catch any of this at the beginning because obviously the molestation had been going on for a long time.”
Lemmond added that he wishes he’d seen the signs of abuse his niece was experiencing.
“It’s just questions like that, like why didn’t they take the kids when Holli made her outcry?” Lemmond wondered aloud.
As Holli was medically examined following a car crash in 2008, it was found that Holli, then age 10, had an STD and has physical signs of sexual abuse. At that time the CPS believed that the sexual abuse was inflicted by Holli’s biological father. No charges were brought against whoever molested Holli then.
“I want to know why they didn’t take the kids in 2008 when they first found Holli’s injury,” Lemmond wondered.
It’s not clear when the trial for Holli’s murder will be set for, but James and Debi Holland have been going through plea negotiation conferences.
The District Attorney’s Office declined to comment on this case.
DFPS in Lubbock County
Holli and her sibling aren’t alone, last year in Lubbock County, DFPS reports there were 1,138 confirmed victims of child abuse and neglect. For Lubbock county between 2013 and 2015 there have been 4,011 confirmed victims of child abuse and neglect as well as 5 abuse/ neglect related fatalities.
As a CPS spokesperson previously stated:
“One child abused, is one too many. Why were there 1,138 child abuse victims in Lubbock County last year? You have to look at the root causes. Child abuse/neglect is a public health issue. Stressors in the home such as poverty, substance abuse, domestic violence, parents who were abused when they were children – these are all things that can lead to abuse/neglect.”
Paul Zimmerman previously explained that DFPS statewide has been focusing more recently on encouraging more “timely case initiation” and initial “face to face contact with alleged victims.”
“In Aug. 2016, 89% of all Priority 1 cases in Region 1 (Panhandle area) were initiated on-time with Face to Face contacts with children made in 96% of those cases. And for comparison, in July 2016, 79% of all Priority 1 cases in Region 1 (Panhandle area) were initiated on-time with Face to Face contacts with children made in 96% of those cases” Zimmerman stated in an email.
He explained that Priority 1 reports encompass cases for children under an immediate risk of abuse or neglect that could lead to death or serious harm. It’s department’s policy that investigations of these reports begin within 24 hours of receiving the call report. Records made available so far do not show what priority level Holli’s case was.
State leaders have been making a push improve CPS performance, which can be a challenge, Zimmerman explained because there is high turnover for investigative case workers. He explained that for the 2016 fiscal year, the department hired 916 investigative case workers, but they lost 785 during that same period.
“In order to see more kids, we need more workers in the field, and as part of our Legislative Appropriations Request we have asked for 510 additional investigative caseworkers and more CPS Special Investigators,” he explained.
He added that the department’s goal is to do more to prevent abuse and neglect before it happens. DFPS is also working with community based programs around the state to relieve some of the pressure on the DFPS employees.
Holli’s family members say that these changes sound like steps toward helping more people like Holli who are in dangerous situations.
“Any kind of changes are great, those are especially great, it might take a while to see if those actually work, but anything is helpful,” Lemmond said.
Lemmond has brainstormed some of his own ideas as well, he’s thought that it could be helpful for schools to have child advocates or legal counsel on staff, and make it easy for students to know where to ask for support.
Debi Holland’s mother Sherrie Ray also is hoping that more options become available for victims of abuse, especially students
“I want kids to know, and anybody else that is going through that, don’t be afraid to ask for help, if something’s not getting done when you ask for help, go to somebody else,” she said. She thinks providing training in schools about how to report abuse could be helpful.
“This whole issue is bigger than just Holli, it’s a lot bigger than Holli,” Lemmod explained.