Shanna Widner was just 13 years old when she watched her mother, Wanda Holloway, become the center of national attention and go to trial for plotting to kill a rival mother so that Widner could win a spot on the her eighth-grade cheerleading squad at her Texas middle school.
The 1991 trial, in which Holloway was sentenced to prison, became one of the most sensational of the decade and immortalized Holloway as the “Pom-Pom Mom.” It was also the subject of two TV movies and one book.
Widner and her family, however, kept silent about the story for decades.
“When it all happened, it wasn’t talked about in my family,” Widner, now a 34-year-old mother of two sons, said today in an exclusive interview on “Good Morning America.”
“We didn’t discuss it. It was like it didn’t happen. It was just put on the back burner like nothing had happened,” she said.
Twenty years after her mother’s arrest in Channelview, Texas, Widner is breaking her silence, speaking publicly for the first time about the scandal and how she feels about her mother today.
“We do not have a very close relationship,” she told “GMA.” “We don’t have a mother-daughter relationship where you sit around and gossip.”
Holloway raised Widner to be a cheerleader and was so distraught when her daughter failed to make the squad that she hired her former brother-in-law to kill her neighbor, Verna Heath, whose daughter, Amber, had made the squad. Holloway, prosecutors argued in the trial, hoped that Amber would be so distraught that she would quit the team, thus opening a spot for Widner.
Instead, Holloway was arrested. After her first trial, in which she was convicted of solicitation of capital murder and sentenced to 15 years in prison, was overturned, Holloway pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. She was released in March of 1997 after serving just six months of her sentence.
“That was probably one of the most difficult moments of my life,” Widner said of the sentencing portion of the trial. “When I hugged her at that point, before they cuffed her and took her away, I really thought I’m not going to get to touch her again for another 14 years.”
“I was lost,” she said. “She was my world and I was her world and I was losing everything that was important to me.”
Today Widner lives just 30 minutes from the town where she grew up and stays in touch with her mom through her sons, Holloway’s grandchildren.
“You have to understand that I’ve only started dealing with this two years ago,” she said of why she allows her mother and sons to stay so close.
“So there would have been no reason for me to have to change the way I acted towards my mother if you pretend like nothing happened,” she said. “When my boys were born she was just as much a part of my life as she had always had been.”
Widner does, however, have her own way of parenting, gathered from the lessons she’s learned in her 20-year journey from the scandal that rocked her family.
“Obviously I veer away from being a stage mom. I think I’ve learned that lesson,” she said on “GMA.”
“My sons participate in football and one of my sons didn’t want to play anymore and I was okay with that,” she said. “If it’s not fun I think parents should take that into consideration. If they’re not having fun, then try something different. It’s not worth it.”