A July night in 1990 changed both of their lives for the worse, but one phone call and the power of forgiveness then changed both their lives for the better. People details the story of Ian Manuel, who was just 13 when he was egged on to rob someone in Tampa, Fla., and confronted 28-year-old mom of two Debbie Baigrie. He shot her in the mouth, nearly killing her, and was arrested three days later and eventually sentenced to life in prison without parole for attempted murder and armed robbery. As Baigrie went through an excruciating recovery, which included dozens of dental procedures to rebuild her shattered mouth, Manuel thought about what he'd done—and right before Christmas in 1991, he placed a collect call to Baigrie to apologize.
A curious Baigrie accepted the call, per a 2014 New York Times article, and finally asked, "Ian, why did you shoot me?" "It was a mistake," the teen, who the paper notes had a troubled childhood, replied. They started exchanging letters, and over time she became one of his biggest supporters, pushing him to get his GED and eventually lobbying for his early release—despite loved ones telling her she was nuts. "She became a mother to me," Manuel, now 40, tells People (the Times notes his own mom, dad, and brother have since died). He was released from prison in November after a Supreme Court ruling that nixed life sentences for juveniles who hadn't committed murder, and per WTSP, Baigrie was waiting outside to give him a hug. He is now "like my adopted son," she says of Manuel, who works for the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama while learning the life basics—laundry, cooking, driving—he missed out on while behind bars. (This paralyzed NYC cop famously urged forgiveness.)