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Woman Helps Free The Man Who Shot Her In The Face After He Spent 26 Years In Prison

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Woman Helps Free The Man Who Shot Her In The Face After He Spent 26 Years In Prison

“I figure if I didn’t help and support him, it would be a life lost.”

A mom and a boy had their life turned upside down after one very plain afternoon. But 26 years later, Debbie can finally say she’s put everything behind her to save whatever’s left of the boy’s future. Some people might even be confused when they hear that Debbie is now friends with the same man who shot her in the face.

Debbie Baigrie who was a new mother to her second child was going out for the first time in a while with her friends. She was headed downtown and so was Ian Manuel.

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Debbie Baigrie has forgiven Ian Manuel for shooting her in the mouth (and blowing out her jaw) during a robbery attempt when he was only 13

It was a normal afternoon in 1990 and Ian Manuel was living in Tampa in one of the most violent neighborhoods, hanging around the wrong group of people. He was the youngest among them and was easily influenced to be involved in many criminal activities.

On the other hand, Debbie was out with her friends for happy hour for the first time since her second child was born a year ago. The pleasant evening out turned awry when Ian’s group approached her and was trying to rob her. They left Ian to hold the gun, who wasn’t feeling comfortable with the idea of robbing people.

Baigrie recalled the traumatic experience with PeopleTV, “I heard from behind, ‘I’m serious, give it up.'”

“I turned around and he just fired,” she recalled. Ian was just 13 then.

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She recounted the injury she sustained, “It blew out all the bottom teeth and the gums on the lower left side of my mouth.”

“The days after the incident, I was obviously scared and in pain. I kept on wondering, Who could have done this?”

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AP

3 days later, Ian was arrested for another crime and admitted his other crimes, including being Debbie’s shooter. At the time, Debbie wasn’t aware that her shooter was a 13-year-old. And when she read the news the next day, Debbie was shocked.

“I’m like ’13?! There’s no way a 13-year-old kid shot me. He’s just a child,'” the then-recovering mom said.

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MICHAEL SPOONEYBARGER

Being exposed to an unhealthy environment and the wrong crowd played obvious parts and Debbie who saw through that tried to speak against the life sentence. She recalled, “The judge said, ‘Mr. Manuel, we’re going to make an example of you.”

Months after he turned 14, he was moved to an adult prison. Debbie spoke, They sentenced him to an adult prison. To me, that was heartbreaking.”

He contacted her near Christmas and apologized to Debbie and recalled, “As soon as she accepted the call I said, ‘Miss Baigrie, this is Ian. I’m just calling to tell you I’m sorry for shooting you, and I wish you and your family a merry Christmas.'”

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AP

“That’s what I blurted out. What do you say to somebody you shot, you know?”

Debbie required over 10 years of surgery to reconstruct her face. While it was a long journey, Debbie continued with her life, started a business, and raised her children. Ian spent years in prison and solitary confinement.

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“I was shaken by it because (the attack) was still so fresh at the time. But he called to apologize. I found it unusual and rare, especially from somebody that young,” said Debbie. “I didn’t consciously forgive him. It was just over time when I got through my trauma.”

Ian sent her letters and while initially they weren’t replied, Debbie appreciated them. She said, “His letters were so articulate and he was so young. I don’t even know if he had started high school yet.”

“Let’s not waste this life. Let’s give him a chance. He was smart, he was remorseful.”

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A poem piece Ian Manuel wrote

She started attending his court hearings, they both started to communicate more and she told him to get his GED. When he was 40, Ian was finally released, 26 years later, after the Supreme Court decided that a life sentence for juvenile charges should never be given unless it was murder.

Debbie greeted him outside when he was released and Ian said, “I got to do something that I had only dreamed about for so many years. I got to kiss her on the same exact spot that the bullet either went in or came out.”

Debbie said, “People would tell me, ‘You’re delusional’ and ‘You have Stockholm syndrome,’ which doesn’t even make sense.”

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Debbie Baigrie

“I figure if I didn’t help and support him, it would be a life lost. And my life wasn’t lost, and I felt like his punishment was way beyond what it should have been.”

Debbie was also upset about how he was treated at the prison due to being physically bigger than his peer. He was often in solitary confinement which meant he wasn’t allowed to socialize normally for most of his life.

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His attorney, Ben Schaefer, said, “What does it mean to a traumatized kid, racked with guilt and stuck in solitary confinement, to have the person he hurt recognize his humanity? Ian would not be where he is today without her.”

They sat down at a pizza joint in Tampa near where the shooting took place 26 years ago to discuss about his future. He learned how to cook, manage his finance and opened a bank account, buy groceries, and he was sometimes invited to talk in classes to teach hope with his life story.

Debbie, who shared her story with People, wants others to learn the power forgiveness has.

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“We all make mistakes, we all try our best, and life is so short. And if anybody knows how your life can be gone in one minute, it’s me. I understand that. We have to forgive, because it helps us heal.”

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