TAMPA - Could you ever forgive someone who shot you? A Tampa woman found the strength and the faith to forgive a young man who nearly killed her.
A photo captures an embrace decades in the making. Ian Manuel had just been released from prison after serving 26 years. He was there because he shot Debbie Baigrie in the face at point blank range.
She wanted to be there when he walked out free man. But she clearly remembers the night in downtown Tampa when she nearly died.
“I had never seen a gun. It was pointing right at me,” she said. “It was a blur. It was a miracle I survived it.”
Ian was convicted and sentenced to prison. Then the unthinkable happened.
“He called me the Christmas after this happened to apologize,” she said.
That’s right. The shooter, the man who almost took her life, reached out. And Debbie reached back.
“And I thought, you know, I’m going to write him back because someone needs to reach out,” she said. “I really cared about him. I cared what happened to him.”
While Debbie showed compassion, she says Ian’s family wasn’t so kind to her.
“His mother was screaming at me and it was horrible,” she said.
And so it began – the journey of healing and forgiveness, phone calls and numerous letters between the two over the years.
Debbie said it wasn’t so easy to forgive, but fear and anger were taking their toll on her and she began to realize she had to let it go.
“To me, holding onto anger and not forgiving is poisoning me. It’s ruining my life,” she said. “I couldn’t do anything for Ian. Let’s help other kids who are in the same situation.”
And that’s exactly what she’s doing, sponsoring at-risk kids and trying to find raise money to get them into college.
(© 2016 WTSP)