Woman helps free the man who shot her in the face

In July 1990, Debbie Baigrie was enjoying her first night out since she gave birth to her second child.

The 28-year-old was walking to her car to head home from a Tampa, Florida, restaurant when she saw a group of men heading toward her.

According to PEOPLE, she heard one of them saying "I'm serious, give it up." When she turned around, she was face-to-face with a gun. It fired and sent a bullet straight through her mouth.

Baigrie miraculously survived the shooting, and it took 40 dental procedures over the course of a decade for her to heal.

Three days after the shooting, Ian Manuel, a 13-year-old from Tampa, confessed to the crime. In February 1991, he pleaded guilty to armed robbery and attempted murder and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Baigrie told PEOPLE that she was utterly shocked that her assailant was only 13. At his sentencing hearing, she said he should be rehabilitated instead of going to prison. She noted that she then put her focus on healing.

"My only priority then was to help myself," Baigrie, now 55, told PEOPLE. "I was traumatized."

Around Christmas that same year, she received a phone call from Manual. He apologized, and she forgave him. They formed a friendship that has only continued to grow.

Manuel spent most of his life behind bars. He said that his friendship with Baigrie helped him get through it.

"She became a mother to me," he told PEOPLE. "She helped me grow up."

Baigrie also helped fight for Manuel's release. Along with the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit that has been working on Manuel's case since 2006, she helped set him free.

In 2010, a Supreme Court decision prohibited life-without-parole sentences for juveniles charged with anything less than murder. Manuel was released in November 2016, and Baigrie was there to greet him on the outside.

"I was able to live a great life while he was behind bars," she told PEOPLE. "He was so young, and over time I got to see how smart and thoughtful he was. He now has a second chance."