In 1990 Debbie was living with her family in Tampa, Florida when she decided to go out with her friends for a first night after having her second child. When she was walking home she heard somebody walking up behind her and scream at her “Give it up”
As Debbie turned around she saw a man pointing a gun at her head. Without hesitation the gunman immediately pulled the trigger and shot her in the head. The bullet tumbled through her jaw, destroyed her bottom teeth and ripped apart her tongue. If the bullet would have hit her just a fraction of an inch higher she would have die right here and there.
When she woke up in the hospital three days later she learned the name of her vicious attacker: Ian Manuel. Like so often Ian had a long rap sheet of prior crimes. But when she heard that her attacker was only 13 years old she was shocked. How could a 13 year old boy be so cold and shoot her in the head without even a moment’s hesitation. Debbie was scared and angry – that boy had destroyed her life!
It would take over a decade to restore her jaw and many plastic surgeries to restore her face. While Debbie was suffering through her ordeal Ian was convicted to life in prison as the judge decided to try him as adult because of the brutal nature of the crime.
After the first year passed, Debbie received a phone call from the prison and she almost fainted when she heard that voice again. The voice of the boy who shot her in the head without any compassion. To her surprise the voice said: “Miss Baigrie, I am so sorry for shooting you and I hope you can forgive me. I want to wish you and your family a merry Christmas.”
Debbie did not expect this. The last thing she would have expected from this stone cold killer was an apology. But she also felt encouraged to see this young boy to overcome his shame and guilt and to confront his victim to say he was sorry.
After this Ian started writing to Debbie from his prison. He told her about his life in prison and explained to her the tremendous guilt he was feeling. After a while Debbie decided to write back to him and encourage him to stay in contact. She thought maybe he was worth having a second chance at life. Maybe she could help him.
Over the course of the next ten years while Debbie suffered through multiple surgeries they continued to stay in contact. At first Ian was in solitary confinement as he was too young for the general prison population.
Gradually he began signing his letters with “your friend” while Debbie found herself working with advocacy groups like the Equal Justice Initiative to get him released.
In 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court decided that life sentences for minors are invalid and suddenly everything was going to change. Debbie again decided that it was her duty to help this boy who almost killer a few decades ago. Without her help that boy, now a full grown man, would have no chance to survive outside of prison without committing another crime.
But it took another 6 years before Ian would be finally released. By now Ian was a grown man, 39 years old, who had lost most of his childhood and his life in prison. All of Ian’s family had died while he was in prison so Debbie picked him up and they spent hours talking about his future.
We will never know where Debbie found strength to forgive her attacker and not only confront him but to support him in rebuilding his life. Many in Debbie’s family still don’t understand how she can talk to the monster that shot her in the head.
But Debbie now considers Ian her friend and Ian recognizes that without Debbie’s help his life would have ended that day of the faithful shot as well!