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Starbucks Upstanders Season 2

27 years ago, Debbie Baigrie was shot in the face during an attempted robbery. Her assailant was a 13-year-old boy.

Ian Manuel was the youngest of three boys who threatened Baigrie that night, but despite his age, he was the one holding the gun.

Ian Manuel in grade school. All photos provided by Starbucks.


"I heard from behind, 'I’m serious, give it up,'" Baigrie recalls.

As she turned around to look at Manuel, he accidentally fired.

She felt an awful pain shoot through her face and saw one of her teeth land on the ground. The terrified boys took off, and Baigrie managed to run back to the restaurant where she had just eaten dinner to get help.

Later she learned all the teeth on the bottom left side of her mouth had been blown out. If the gun had been pointed slightly higher, she would've suffered a traumatic brain injury. All things considered, she was very lucky.

A few days later, Manuel was arrested for riding in a stolen car, and he immediately admitted he was the one who shot Baigrie.

Baigrie didn't learn her shooter was only 13 until she read about his arrest in the paper.

"I’m like 13?! There’s no way a 13-year-old kid shot me. He’s just a child," Baigrie says.

Debbie Baigrie.

Even so, Manuel was charged with attempted murder, armed robbery, and attempted armed robbery as an adult. The maximum sentence was life in prison.

His mother and lawyer urged him to plead guilty in order to get his sentence cut, but the judge was determined to make an example of him and gave him life without parole.

Baigrie could not believe it.  "The punishment didn’t match the crime."

Two weeks before his 14th birthday, Manuel started serving his sentence. A year into it, around Christmas, he decided to reach out to Baigrie.

The first thing he said to her was, "Miss Baigrie, I called to wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and happy holidays. And to apologize, you know, for shooting you in the face."

Needless to say, it was a difficult conversation. Manuel asked if he could continue it by writing her letters, and she said yes.

One of Manuel's letters to Baigrie.

Over the next 15 years, the two corresponded regularly and struck up an unlikely friendship.

Baigrie was impressed by Manuel's writing abilities, which seemed to her to far exceed the abilities of a 13-year-old of his background. He also sent her his report card from prison school to show her how well he was doing. She encouraged him to keep improving himself, despite his circumstances.

While she doesn't recall saying or writing it, she eventually forgave him and did what she could to remind him there was someone outside who cares.

The exterior of the Equal Justice Initiative.

Aside from Baigrie, Manuel also wrote letters to civil rights groups in hopes that one would take up his case. In 2006, one finally responded.

The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) told him they were interested in challenging the constitutionality of life sentences without parole for children. They had recently won a similar case to save a minor from the death sentence, so they thought they had a good shot.

It took four years for EJI's case to reach the Supreme Court, but sure enough, the judges ruled in their favor.

Seven years later, after the same judge who first sentenced him to life re-sentenced him despite Baigrie's support, Manuel won his freedom.

"I told the judge me and Debbie have been waiting for years for the judicial system to catch up to my remorse and her forgiveness," Manuel recalls.

After 26 years in prison, 18 of which were spent in solitary confinement, he was released, and his first meal as a free man was pizza with Baigrie.

Manuel's first night of freedom with Baigrie.

The EJI then helped Manuel get a Social Security card and an apartment and even offered him a job in their offices. It was a major leg up, but he still had a lot to learn, having never been an adult out in the world.

Thankfully he had people like Baigrie supporting him along the way.

"I see Ian for who he is," Baigrie says. "I’m not saying he wasn’t responsible for his actions, but when you’re 13, you should be given the opportunity to change, to grow."

Remorse and forgiveness saved Manuel on so many levels and brought Baigrie peace.

Few stories more clearly prove that human connection has power — sometimes enough to right the egregious wrongs of the past.  

Watch Manuel and Baigrie's whole story here:

She followed her gut and answered a phone call from her attacker. Then a beautiful friendship blossomed.

Posted by Upworthy on Monday, October 23, 2017
Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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