Debbie Baigrie and Ian Manuel are now fast friends. An incredible feat, considering the first time they met was when Manuel robbed Baigrie and shot her in the face.
Baigrie was shot 26 years ago by the then 13-year-old Manuel, who said he committed the robbery because he was desperate for money.
Over two decades later, she is one of the first smiling faces to greet the now 39-year-old Ian just hours after he had left prison in a Tampa gas station.
Instead of focusing on the negative, the now grandmother decided to do something positive and fostered a friendship with her assailant after years of communicating via letter. She also saw him when he was up for parole.
The heart and mind of the 54-year-old was swayed when she received a phone call shortly after the shooting from Manual himself. It was his first Christmas in jail.
He 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.”
Our publisher, Debbie. https://t.co/K7ZfQqXd57
— Debbie Baigrie (@NATURAL_MUSCLE) November 28, 2016
“That’s what I blurted out. What do you say to somebody you shot, you know?,” he told TODAY.
The long lost reunion between the two, started out with a two minute hug and then a jaunt to a pizza joint, a location close to where the incident occurred. But, the new memories formed over the last 26 years as well as forgiveness and care have replaced it.
Baigrie decided years ago to “forgive.” Saying,“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.”
Her efforts were not lost. Manual, who was sentenced as an adult by the judge overseeing the case, saw her as a second mom because she helped them through some dark prison times. Particularly he recalls her helping him during his stay in solitary confinement, which totaled several years.
Due to his age and size, the separation was necessary.
So when this moment came to be face to face with Manual, he said, “I didn’t feel like I was hugging a stranger. Debbie’s not only like a guardian angel, she’s like a second mom.”
“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?” he said. “Ian would not be where he is today without her.”
A nod to the woman who spent tireless years advocating for his freedom after recognizing his intelligence and authenticity while he continued to reach out to her in prison.
In 2010, when the Supreme Court got rid of life sentences for juveniles – people under the age of 18 years of age – she went to work with his lawyers to give Manual a second chance and live a free life.