Debbie Baigrie is sharing her story of forgiveness and the amazing friendship she has formed with the man who shot her in the face when he was a teenager.
Baigrie was visiting Tampa in Florida in 1991 when she was shot by 13-year-old Ian Manuel as he was attempting to rob her but he panicked and fired his gun.
Their unique story has been shared by Starbucks on its YouTube Channel as part of its Upstander series. In the video, Debbie describes her disbelief over being shot by a kid.
At the time of the shooting, young Ian already had a reputation in his neighborhood for being troublesome and his mother also had a prison record.
“I had built a reputation as someone who was fearless. It didn’t matter that I was the youngest, I was given a gun,” he said.
During the shooting in July 1991, Debbie said: “It was the first time I had been out since my second baby. I saw these three guys walk up to the car. I was not really paying attention to them, one of them asked me ‘have you got any change’, then I heard from behind me someone say ‘I’m serious, give it up’.”
For the crime, Ian was sentenced to life in prison, without the possibility of parole.
In the video, he describes how he found Debbie’s telephone number and decided to call her shortly before Christmas in 1991.
“I’m glad I had followed my heart and picked up the phone that day because if not I would have missed out on a truly special friendship,” Ian said.
Debbie says her decision to accept his call from prison has also been life-changing.
“I forgave him because he was a child. I used this to make my life better and to refocus,” she said.
Debbie would later work with a lawyer from the Equal Justice Initiative to challenge the legality of life sentences without parole for minors. She even supported Ian and court and spoke against what she saw as an unfair punishment.
“I told the judge that me and Debbie have been waiting for years for the judicial system to catch up to my remorse and her forgiveness. I was released that night,” said Ian.
Now that he’s out of prison, their friendship has blossomed.
“Our relationship spans so many years from childhood to adulthood, that he’s almost like my child,” she said. “I’m not saying he wasn’t responsible for his actions, but when you are 13 you should be given the opportunity to change, to grow. What I feel is compassion for another human being.”
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