How Krystal Surles Survived Attack of Serial Killer Tommy Lynn Sells

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10-year-old Krystal Surles (above)
13-year-old Katy Harris (above)

On December 30, 1999, at a home in Del Rio, Texas, two girls were preparing to have a sleepover together, 13-year-old Kaylene Harris, who went by Katy & 10-year-old Krystal Surles. Krystal & her 7-year-old sister, Marque Surles were staying at the Harris home, waiting for their family to arrive from Kansas; they were moving to the Del Rio area. Katy Harris was a beautiful girl who was well-liked and popular at school. The Harris family included the oldest son, Sean, then Justin, Laurie & Katy. 

That night, 7-year-old Marque desperately wanted to join the older girls in the sleepover, but older sister Krystal wasn’t having it. Marque ended up sleeping in the bedroom directly across the hall from where Katy & Krystal slept; she said she fumed in bed for two hours, so angry that her sister wouldn’t allow her to join the fun. 

Krystal remembers that they went to bed late that night. She said she woke up to something that sounded like a scream; it was approximately 3:50am. She said she was sleeping on the top bunk & Katy was at the bottom. She popped her head up a little but never fully sat up. The lights in the room were on & to her horror, a scary man stood at the end of the bed. Krystal described him as having long, dark, scruffy hair and a big, long, scary, bushy beard that took over his whole face, and dark, mean eyes. Krystal noticed that Katy had blood on her & that the man held a knife in his hand. She saw that the knife was across Katy’s throat and his hand was over her mouth. Krystal watched in horror as the man cut Katy’s throat & she fell to the ground.

Krystal said that the man hadn’t noticed that she was in the room, sleeping on the top bunk. But, as he was getting ready to walk out of the room, just about to turn the light off, he looked back one last time & saw her looking at him. Krystal quickly tried to scoot to the right side of the bed since the man stood to the left, trying to get away from him but he just reached over the side of the bed and cut her throat.

Krystal remembers just laying there, the man turning the light off, leaving the room & closing the door behind him. She got down from the bunk, fell to her hands and knees and made her way to where Katy lay on the bedroom floor. She said that Katy was making gasping or choking noises & Krystal tried to comfort her. She laid next to her friend & rubbed her back; when she tried to say, “Everything’s gonna be OK” she realized that she was unable to speak. She said Katy stopped making the noises & she knew she had to get help.

Krystal first headed across the hall to where her sister slept but was unable to wake her since she couldn’t speak. She began to fear that this man had killed the whole family so she fled the house.

When she got outside, it was dark & she was in her pajamas, wearing no shoes. She saw a light in the distance & headed in that direction. She made it to the road & walked the quarter mile slowly toward the light, thinking over & over, “get to this house, just get to this house.”  As she approached the house, she banged on the door & a man asked who it was; since Krystal was unable to speak, she continued to bang on the door. 

When the man opened the door, she communicated by writing on a pad of paper, “The Harris’ are hurt.. Tell them to hurry.” “My neck needs help. Will I live?” It was heartbreaking to see her writing on a piece of paper that was blotted in blood.

The Texas Rangers received the phone call at 5:30am on December 31,1999. When they entered the Harris home & made their way to the room where Katy & Krystal had slept, they found an extremely bloody scene.  Sadly, Katy didn’t survive.

Marque remembers waking up and seeing the sun coming in through the window. As she sat up, she noticed a woman that she didn’t recognize, standing in the room. The woman handed Marque shorts and a purple tank top & told her they had to go. 

As they left the bedroom, Marque noticed that there was a stream of blood about five steps away from her own door. Blood streaked the walls & it appeared that someone had stumbled down the hall, holding on to things as they went. Marque recalls seeing the blood outside as well, trailing down the front steps & into the street. Because of the blood, she knew that someone was hurt. She also remembers that everyone was crying and frantic. Marque was desperate to know what was going on. 

When Marque found out what happened, she said that she wouldn’t have made it like Krystal did & that she was lucky she hadn’t ended up sleeping in the room that night. She’s convinced that if she had, she wouldn’t be here today.

In the meantime, Pam Surles, Marque and Krystal’s mom woke to the phone ringing close to 6am at the home in Kansas that she was moving from. It was the Val Verde ER; they told her that Krystal had been attacked & they needed her permission to Life Flight Krystal to San Antonio. At the time, she only knew that Krystal’s throat had been cut. 

When Pam arrived at the hospital, she saw her baby girl surrounded by tubes, a machine breathing for her. Krystal’s trachea had been cut & her vocal cords had been hit, which is why she couldn’t speak after she was attacked. Pam said that Krystal only wanted to know if Katy was okay. At that moment, Pam couldn’t bring herself to break the devastating news that Katy hadn’t made it.

Krystal later told reporters at a press conference that Katy helped her through that night, “her soul came up and stayed with me.”  When Krystal was out of surgery, she was ready to talk & tell police what she knew.  A forensic artist stationed in Midland, TX was contacted & flown to San Antonio & brought to University Hospital to work with Krystal. 

Krystal said that she couldn’t get the picture of the man out of her head; she was amazed how well the artist was able to sketch what she described. Eventually, police brought Krystal a photo lineup; they watched as her eyes scanned the photo & focused on one person pictured. She took her right index finger & placed it directly on the image of Tommy Lynn Sells. 

At that point, Tommy Lynn Sells became the number one suspect.  From there, investigators headed back toward Del Rio, a two-and-a-half hour drive from San Antonio. They arrived at Sells’ home at 5:30am & knocked on the door; it was unlocked so they walked right in to find Sells standing near the doorway. He simply said, “I’m glad I finally got caught – I was tired of doing this.” From there, he was arrested for murder.

The murder weapon was an 11-inch butcher knife the blade extremely thin, having been sharpened so many times. It had been discarded in the brush behind his house, exactly where he told police he had put it. The police called Pam, where she sat with her recovering daughter & let her know they had made the arrest. 

The first time Krystal caught sight of her neck injury was while she roamed the hospital halls, her IV pole in tow; she bent to take a sip from the drinking fountain & saw her reflection in the shiny surface. She wanted to look more closely so Pam brought her a mirror; she cried for a little but knew it would get better. 

Everyone tried to remind Krystal that she was the one who helped catch the vicious killer who could be out, killing others. Krystal remembers feeling that she wasn’t brave, just lucky. Sells was cooperative when he was brought to the Val Verde County Sheriff’s Office; he gave his confession & walked police through the crime scene. 

A window had been left open the night of the attack & Sells was able to easily enter the home. He noticed Marque sleeping by herself in one room & instead chose the room where Katy & Krystal slept. He approached the bottom bunk as Katy slept, cut her bra & underwear off, anything that she was wearing. He said he stabbed her and she jumped back & that’s when he slit her throat. He described seeing Krystal on the top bunk & demonstrated slashing her neck. 

Police believe the motive was a sexual assault but eventually found out that Sells was associated and friends with the Harris family & that he specifically targeted Katy. Sells had made a comment that he had considered killing all six people that were in the trailer. Apparently the Harris family had met Sells through Grace Community Church & allegedly struck up a friendship. They regularly attended church, allegedly met him multiple times & he had even come to the home at least once before. He knew the layout of the house & how to slip in without disturbing the rest of the family as he made his attack on Katy. 

Pam said that the Texas Rangers suggested that she go through the crime scene to see with her own eyes what had happened. They felt this could hopefully allow Pam to better help Krystal through her recovery. As Pam walked through the house, she felt as if her legs were going to give out, her daughter’s blood streaked throughout the house, as she made her way out the front door. 

As police made the drives with Sells to  the jail, he was quiet & then eventually said, “I guess you wanna know about the other murders.” They took Sells to an interrogation room & listened as he spoke for hours, going from state to state, talking about all the men, women & children he had killed. Sells made the comment, “My daddy told me a long time ago, ‘Dead men tell no tales’ I remember that to this day.”

Over the next nine months, working with Sells, the police confirmed that he was responsible for 22 murders. 

Krystal was relieved to leave Texas & head back to Kansas but she would eventually have to go back to testify nine months later. She said that she felt fine to know that she would eventually see him again, knowing he couldn’t get her this time. She liked having the power this time around. She was brave & faced her killer, doing it for Katy, knowing she deserved it. 

The day of the trial she woke up and said to herself, “I can do this, I can do this.” She asked her mom not to cry during her testimony, knowing it would distract her. She was given the option to walk past Sells or go through the door that led her straight to the stand. She said, “I wanna walk by him. I’m not scared of him.” 

Krystal had to directly point at Sells to identify that he was the person who murdered her friend that night. She said he wouldn’t look up at her & sat, shaking his leg. At one point she became overwhelmed & couldn’t answer any more questions. Pam managed to keep her word & not cry, as she watched her brave child breakdown on the stand.   

They took a fifteen minute break; Krystal said she wiped her tears and went right back out there and did it. She had to show her scar to the jury & show them how she had popped her head up from the top bunk bed. When Sells approached Krystal that night, she had held her hands up to protect her neck. When they asked her why she had done that, she said, “because I saw what he did to Katy and I was scared he was gonna do it to me.” 

The defense attorney could only say, “You’re a brave young woman. Thank you. No more questions.” There was, thankfully, no cross examination. This made Krystal happy, knowing that even the person who was there to defend Sells, was on her side. She said that the moment it was over & she stepped off the stand, she felt so good, like all the pressure was off her shoulders, having gotten through it. 

After an hour and  ten minutes of deliberation, the jury came back; they had found Tommy Lynn Sells guilty and convicted of capitol murder. Then the state went into phase two to try and get the death penalty. After the jury again deliberated for a few hours, Sells was sentenced to death.

Tommy had likely gotten away with so many murders before getting caught because he was a drifter and moved from one location to the next; often traveling with the carnival. He found the rush of ending lives too exciting to give up & admitted he had no regrets. On April 3, 2014, Sells had no last words before he was given a lethal injection & died 13 minutes later. 

Krystal had a hard time with this part; she said she’s never been the type of person to feel good about something so bad. 

It turned out that Krystal had been a survivor and a fighter her entire life, not just during and after the attack. Five years earlier, her parents Pam & Mark got caught up in a roller coaster of drug addiction. They were getting into some trouble with the law & worst of all, they were fighting terribly. Eventually Pam got tired of the drugs and what  comes with that lifestyle, so she got clean & filed for divorce. 

Mark said that between age six and seven, Krystal had to step up and be the mom of the house, taking care of everyone, maturing more than she should have. Krystal said  that her dad would sleep for days at a time; she was only in second grade at the time but still stepped up to take care of her younger siblings, changing diapers, feeding them, putting them & then herself to bed. Then waking early to get herself ready for school; she said she was late to school basically everyday & was the “stinky kid” in class. Her clothes were never matching, she walked to school & no one ever saw her parents or siblings; she said, “I was just the random girl at school.” 

Marque remembers that way before the attack, her sister was always taking care of her, always there as the backbone of the family. Amber, Krystal’s other sister said that she cooked, cleaned & cared for everyone else before caring for herself. 

Krystal remembers that when her mom got clean, she decided to take the girls and move away from their dad. Mark admits that he couldn’t quit dealing or using. This hurt Krystal, the fact that her dad was choosing drugs over his family. Mark ended up getting caught and going to prison. At the time of the attack, Mark was in Ada County Jail in Boise, Idaho. He remembers his mom and sister coming to see him at a time that wasn’t visiting time. Mark feels that had he not been locked up at the time, he would have killed “that son of a bitch.”

Krystal said after the attack and trial, she, her mom & sisters all slept in the same bed for the next couple of years. While everyone slept, Krystal would still be awake at 5am, laying there with her eyes wide open. She always had a game plan in mind if needed; if someone comes in this window, I’m going out that window. She would check her family throughout the night, reassuring herself that they were still alive and breathing. 

By this point, Mark, Krystal’s dad, had been in jail for three years. He said that what happened to Krystal was a slap in the face and an absolute wake-up call. Their relationship gradually strengthened as Mark built his trust back.  Marque feels that the thing that Krystal struggles with the most is that even if Sells was found guilty & sentenced to death, Katy is still dead & nothing will change that. 

In 2016, seventeen years after the attack, a stranger named Alvin Willie George began sending Krystal images of the bloody crime scene & threats to her & her family, threatening to rape & kill them. He ended up getting sentenced to four years in prison for cyberstalking. 

Krystal said that she never thinks about Tommy Lynn Sells & refuses to give him the time of day. As she spoke she cried & explained, “It makes me really thankful.. That’s what he did. He didn’t ever bring me down at all. These are happy tears. I’m just glad to be here.” 


  1. 48 Hours: Live to Tell: Krystal’s Courage
  2. CBS News: Crime scene photos: Tommy Lynn Sells
  3. TeddyFeed: The Serial Killer Who Was Brought Down By A Young Girl
  4. Jessie London: The 10-Year-Old Who Stopped a Texas Serial Killer

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