On a rainy Thursday at 7:29 a.m., Mia Fleming’s eyelids fluttered as awareness briefly returned. It was the first time she had been conscious in more than five weeks. After a few moments, she opened her eyes to a world filled with blurry images. Unable to comprehend where she was, Mia struggled to focus as she stared at the ceiling of the ICU. After several more seconds, she managed to move her head slightly in an attempt to look around the room, but all she could make out was a seemingly endless mass of wires and small plastic tubes – all connected to her.
Her disorientation was terrifying. Mia did not understand where she was or why she was there, and because her brain was still suffering the effects of trauma, trying to recall anything was impossible. To make matters worse, it appeared she was alone, so there was no one to notice she was awake.
Mia could feel her heart beating, but she took little comfort in being alive. Nothing about this made any sense to her, and she was completely overwhelmed.
Suddenly through the beeping and clicking of the machines that were keeping her alive, she heard footsteps moving briskly in her direction. She fought to stay awake because, although bewildered by her situation, she had a thousand questions she wanted to ask of anyone who could answer them. However, just as the first person entered the room, her consciousness faded away, and she was swallowed up by a deep sleep that seemed like it would last forever.
Over the next several days, the pattern repeated itself. Mia would wake for varying lengths of time and then drift away as the world once again disappeared. But ever so slowly, she began to stay awake more and more and for longer periods until finally, her brain allowed her to remain in the present.
During this time, how she ended up in the ICU gradually came back to her but only in bits and pieces. It was unnerving as the scraps of memories began to appear and assemble themselves in some sort of crude order. But there was another issue that was even more frightening. It took a while, but as the mental fog cleared, Mia began to realize that she could not move her legs. The doctors would soon inform her that the paralysis was a permanent condition resulting from damaged brain tissue.
As she lay captive in the room that had become a prison, a heavy dark depression descended upon her. Unable to escape from the relentless sound of the soulless machines attached to her body, Mia still couldn’t believe what had happened, and she couldn’t bear to consider what her future might be like.
Worst of all was knowing that her confinement was not the result of a terrible accident or some kind of misfortune. She was lying here because of the deliberate actions of another person. But even though she knew what caused her traumatic brain injury, no matter how hard she tried, she could not recall where she was or what she was doing when it occurred.
A week after coming out of her coma, Mia was informed that she would soon be visited by the police. They wanted to get a statement regarding the events of the day that had altered her life forever.
With great difficulty, she had been able to reconstruct a brief amount of time surrounding her injury, and while she dreaded reliving it, she was willing to tell the police what little she could remember. But, sadly, many of the important details including the location of the incident and any other people who might have witnessed it remained a blank.
Late in the afternoon of the following day, there was a knock on the door and a nurse led a woman into the room. She introduced her. “Mia, this is Detective Baker.”
The detective produced her badge, and Mia nodded, feeling foolish for automatically assuming that any person she spoke with from the police would be a man.
Physically, Baker was a large and intimidating figure. Rising through the ranks by being uncompromising and decisive, she became the first black woman in the department to make detective. Through her hard work, commitment, and no-nonsense attitude, she gained the respect of her fellow officers and her superiors.
Unknown to most people, Detective Baker, despite exuding professional toughness, also had a sensitive side that, for the most part, she was able to keep well hidden. But there were certain aspects about this particular case that had touched her, and from the beginning, she’d had difficulty keeping her personal opinions in check so they didn’t interfere with the performance of her job.
The nurse quickly checked the readings on a couple of machines and then stepped out of the room. Detective Baker studied the woman in the bed, and in a quiet voice that seemed soothingly gentle coming from someone her size, she said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Fleming. How are you?”
Mia managed a weak smile. “I’m alive.”
Baker returned her smile. “Apparently you are very lucky to have survived.”
“I guess so. It’s just difficult to process it all.”
The detective said, “That is to be expected.” Then she explained, “Since you can only have one visitor in here at a time, my partner stayed in the waiting area. We hoped you might be more comfortable talking to a female detective. We want to make this as easy as possible for you.”
In a raspy tone that was the result of her extreme fatigue, Mia replied, “Thank you. But I’m not sure how much help I’ll be no matter what.”
The doctors had warned the police that the patient was experiencing a form of memory loss called post-traumatic amnesia. In her case, Mia could remember some details but not others. The doctors had urged the detectives to use caution and not to force her to confront thoughts and images that would be disturbing at this early stage of her recovery.
Baker had seen it before as victims blocked out portions of an event they couldn’t deal with. The detective knew the doctors were right. It was better to give a person time to come to terms with unpleasant things on their own rather than forcing them to face unsettling truths too soon.
Wanting to put the patient at ease, Baker said, “I’m aware of the issues you are battling. We’re just going to take it nice and slow.” The detective pulled a pen and a small notebook from her pocket. “I’m going to make a few notes as we go along, so let me start by asking you some preliminary questions, and then I’d like for you to tell me, in your own words, what took place. If you get too tired or become too upset, we will stop and try at another time.”
The police had already gathered extensive information about Mia, and what had transpired, but the detective wanted to give her a chance to exercise her memory before attempting to recount the trauma. It also allowed Baker to gauge the woman’s ability to correctly recall the facts.
The detective knew that Mia was single, that she was an only child, and that her parents were deceased. Needless to say, the patient was facing an incredibly difficult road alone. But there was far more about Mia and her case that spoke to Baker in a very personal way.
Wanting to make the most of the time she could spend with the victim, the detective started by asking the obvious. “Let’s begin with a few basics. Please state your full name.”
“Mia Elizabeth Fleming.”
“And your date of birth?”
“September 7, 1991”
“What was the date of your injury?”
Mia correctly guessed the day. “I think it was on a…… Wednesday, maybe in the morning.”
Baker noted her inability to be certain. “That is correct. And what was the date?”
Mia thought about it. “I believe it was early last month…… but I’m not sure about the date.”
“That okay.” Unfortunately, at this point, her mental faculties were not as sharp as the police had hoped for. Baker knew the prosecution would need her to testify in court – but not if her confusion was a long-term issue. The detective asked gently, “Miss Fleming, do you know what today’s date is?”
Mia was already growing discouraged. “I’m sorry. I don’t know.”
“Do you know what day of the week it is?”
Baker reassured her. “Don’t be alarmed. I’m sure every day in here is pretty much the same.”
Sighing heavily, Mia agreed. “That’s for sure.”
A detective was expected to show no reaction to any responses that were given, and Baker was a very good police officer, but with this particular victim, it was far more difficult than usual to control her emotion. Because of her own personal circumstances, this crime had moved her in a way that others had not. But the detective had a job to do, so she pressed on. “Speaking of this place, do you know the name of the hospital you are in?”
Mia spoke in a tone that conveyed her increasing anxiety. “No. I’m sorry. I have no idea.”
Baker sized up the small frail woman who was still hooked up to an ungodly amount of wires and tubes. After everything she’d endured, the patient appeared at least ten years older than her age of twenty-eight. Attempting to modulate her voice, the detective said, “Miss Fleming, you don’t need to apologize for anything. You’ve been through a horrific experience. It is only natural that your mind and body need time to heal.
“I am the one who is sorry. I’m sorry that I’m required to encourage you to think about details that I’m sure are troubling. So, let’s just take our time and see what we can figure out. I do not want to put you under any kind of pressure. Just do the best you can, and that’s all anyone can ask.”
Mia was impressed by the detective’s kindness. “I know you’re just doing your job, but I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed. I’ve tried and tried, but there is so much I can’t remember.”
“That’s all right. Just tell me what you can recall…… Where were you and what were you doing when the crime was committed?”
Mia bit her bottom lip as tears filled her eyes. “That is the strangest thing of all. You might not believe this, but I only know I was in a room – and that’s it. I have no idea where the room was, or why I was there.”
The victim was even less reliable than the detective had feared forcing Baker to hide her disappointment. Obviously, the police already knew the answers to all of these questions, but the detective still had to ask them. “Do you think you might have been at home, or at work, or in some other public place?”
Mia glanced around nervously, “I don’t know.”
Not wanting to increase the victim’s stress, Baker tried to get at it another way. “Miss Fleming, what do you do for a living?”
In a whisper, Mia said, “It’s unbelievable – but I don’t know what kind of work I did.”
“Did you go to college?”
Without confidence, she replied, “I think so. Maybe”
“Do you know where?”
“Okay. Do you remember your major?”
The first tear rolled down Mia’s cheek. “I’m not sure.” She tried to come up with it but couldn’t. “No. I have no idea.”
“Okay. Let’s go back to the scene of the crime. You said it was a room. Did it seem like a familiar place? Had you been there before?”
“Maybe – but maybe not. I can’t be certain.”
Still concentrating on questions that she already had the answers to, Baker asked, “Were you alone, or is it possible there were other people with you?”
Mia’s face went blank. “For some reason, I don’t think I was alone, but I have no idea who else was there.”
“If others were in the room, could they have been people you knew, or were they strangers?”
Growing agitated with herself, Mia said, “I’m trying to picture other faces, but I can’t see anything in my mind. Believe me, I’d give anything if I could.”
Realizing that asking more questions was pointless, Baker decided to have Mia go ahead and explain what happened. “That’s okay. You’re doing fine. Why don’t you tell me everything you can about that day.”
This was what she had been dreading. Mia had known all along that she’d eventually have to talk about it with the police, but it was not something she wanted to relive. But at least Detective Baker was being patient and understanding, and that made her a little less anxious – but only a little.
Since there was no way to put it off, Mia decided to just get it over with. Speaking slowly, the injured woman began to describe the events as best she could. “The first thing I remember was the sound of the man coming through the door. It was blocked somehow, and he had to force his way in. I tried to stop him, but I couldn’t.”
Being careful in how she phrased her questions, Baker asked, “Did you get a good look at the man? Did you see him clearly?”
For the first time, Mia sounded confident. “Yes, I did.”
“Describe him in as much detail as you can.”
Without hesitation, Mia said “He was huge. He was tall and stocky with wide shoulders. I can remember being shocked by how big of a person he was. He had short black hair and a full beard. Oh, and he was wearing a T-shirt, maybe blue I think. I remember the short sleeves because he had tattoos on both arms.”
Baker was pleased. The victim had just described the accused accurately. Now the detective wanted to narrow the scope of inquiry. “Was the man wearing glasses?”
“Yes! He definitely was. I broke them when I hit him.” Mia felt a small measure of relief that at least some aspects of the attack were coming back to her.
Wanting to take advantage of the victim’s responsiveness, the detective plunged ahead. “Okay, now this might be more difficult. Did the man use his left or right hand?”
In her mind, Mia clearly pictured him raising his hand, and that was when she saw the weapon. She shuddered and said, “He used his right hand. He was holding a gun in his right hand. I am positive.”
Taking a chance, the detective said, “All right, Miss Fleming, you are doing great. Now I want you to concentrate, and think about this one more time. Were there people in the immediate area other than you and the man?”
Baker watched Mia close her eyes and struggle to picture the room. When she opened them, the detective could see her disappointment. “I’m sorry. I don’t know if there were others there.”
“It’s okay. Let me ask one more time. Do you have any idea where the room was located? Was it at home or in public?”
Mia’s hands began to shake in frustration. “I don’t know. I can’t think.”
“That’s all right,” Baker said. “For now, let’s go back to when the man came in. Was he yelling, or did he say anything?”
“I was so scared, he might have, and I just didn’t catch it. I only had seconds to react.”
The detective tried to suppress her own emotions as she watched the patient grapple with her memory.
After a short silence, Mia volunteered haltingly, “Somehow I tried to block him from coming in, and even though it didn’t work, I did manage to at least slow him down. Because it was hard for him to get in, it gave me time to rush at him. That’s when I saw the gun in his right hand. I began to hit him in the face with my fists as hard as I could, and I knocked him backward.”
Baker asked, “Did you hear any other sounds? Maybe people crying or screaming?”
Shaking her head, Mia said, “Nothing is coming back to me. I just remember this huge man who wanted to hurt people.”
“So you said you blocked the door, right?”
“Yes, that’s correct. But he was too strong, and he was pushing his way through. That is when I began to punch him over and over again. For some reason, instead of shooting me, he swung his arm and caught me across the face. The doctors said he broke my nose and one eye socket. The blow knocked me off my feet, and I fell to the floor. I watched the man raise the handgun, and point it directly at me. I thought I was about to die – but he didn’t pull the trigger.”
With her voice falling, Mia said, “All of a sudden, he heard something that caught his attention, because he started to walk towards the sound. My eyes were beginning to swell shut, but I could still barely see. I frantically looked around, saw the fire extinguisher on the wall, scrambled to my feet, and grabbed it. I guess I instinctively knew this was my last chance to stop him, so I came up behind him, lifted the fire extinguisher as high as I could, and smashed him in the head with it.”
Mia’s face contorted in anguish as she said, “There was blood everywhere, and he staggered for a few steps, but he was still able to turn and raise the gun – and that is when he shot me.” Mia’s breathing had become rapid and shallow. It was taking all of the strength she possessed to relive the moment.
The detective’s professional demeanor did not give away the burning mixture of heartache and admiration she felt for the victim as she listened to her account of the attack. Baker wasn’t sure what she could do in the coming days to help Mia, but she had to do something to assist this courageous woman whose life had been shattered.
The patient gathered herself and slowly continued. “When the bullet struck me in the temple, it was over. I hit the floor hard, but I still attempted to crawl toward the man. I wanted to try to stop him from hurting anyone else, but my body wouldn’t respond. I just laid there. It’s strange, but the one thing that I never forgot was the smell of gunpowder. It was overpowering.
“I heard him cock the gun, so I tried to cry out, but there was blood draining into my throat, and I couldn’t make more than a gurgling sound. Suddenly there was another shot. For an instant, I thought I had been hit again, but then the shooter slumped to the floor right next to me. Staring at his face with his eyes glazed over was the last thing I remember until I woke up in here five weeks later.”
Noticing that Mia was trembling, the detective realized she had put the woman through enough for one day. Baker briefly explained, “The assailant had his weapon pointed directly at you when the first officer on the scene arrived at the door. He was the person who fired the second shot, hitting the gunman in the middle of the back. Of course, the accused survived and will stand trial.
“When the officer got to you, he couldn’t believe you were still breathing. Your wound was the worst he’d ever seen – but you are a survivor.” Baker paused and said, “And you’ve done great today. You’ve come up with many important details, and that will definitely help in the prosecution of the shooter. Perhaps, in time, more circumstances surrounding the attack will come back to you – but I think we’ve talked enough for now. I’m sure you need some rest.”
“Thanks.” Mia agreed. “I get tired so quickly. I’m hoping my stamina improves soon.”
The detective said, “I’m sure it will…… I know this wasn’t easy for you, but it was necessary. Thank you again for your assistance, Miss Fleming.”
“You’re welcome, Detective.”
Baker walked to the waiting room where her partner of three years, Detective Bill Simpson, met her. Eager to hear everything, he asked “Well, what did she have to say?”
Before rehashing the conversation, Baker couldn’t resist an off-the-cuff comment. “Mia Fleming is one incredible woman.” Then the detective shook her head in disappointment. “However, at this time her cognitive functions are not good.” She then spent several minutes relaying everything the patient had told her about that day. The detective finished up by telling her partner, “Miss Fleming doesn’t understand what she did.”
Simpson asked, “She really doesn’t?”
“No. And with a brain injury, it’s difficult to predict what the long-term effects will be. Of course, the doctors will do everything they can, but for now, she has no idea where she was or what she was doing when the crime was committed.”
“That’s so strange. After speaking to her, do you think she’ll totally recover?”
Baker tried to hide her feelings. “It’s hard to say. I hope so. She’s a strong person.”
But Detective Simpson could see right through his partner. They had been together long enough for him to tell that the interview had affected her. “Are you okay?”
Baker felt drained. “Yeah. I’m fine. Let’s go.”
The next few days crawled by at an excruciating pace, each one indistinguishable from the other. Mia believed it was the middle of the week, but she had lost track. Of course, it didn’t matter anyway. Trying to reacquire a taste for solid food, she had just finished picking at her lunch when the door opened, and Detective Baker stepped into the room.
She smiled at the patient. “Good afternoon, Miss Fleming. How are you?”
“Better. Thanks.” Surprised by the visit, Mia assumed she knew what the detective wanted. “I guess you need to ask me more questions.”
“No. I’m off duty. I was just in the area and thought I’d stop in and check on you. Okay if I sit down?”
Now Mia was really surprised. “Of course…… I didn’t know the police ever visited people socially when they were involved in a case. But thank you for coming by.”
The detective shrugged and pulled up a chair. “Well, it’s my own time. I can do what I want. The thing is, I’ve been worried about you, so it is good to find you improving.” A student of human behavior, Baker couldn’t help noticing that the patient seemed anxious as if something was on her mind.
Almost on cue, Mia’s expression grew serious. “I know you’re not on duty, Detective, but since you’re here could I ask you a question?”
“Absolutely.” Baker was curious to see where this would lead.
There was a long pause and then the shooting victim asked, “Please be honest with me. Do you know the answers to the questions you’ve been asking?”
Baker was irritated with herself. She should have anticipated something like this. But wanting to be truthful, she replied, “Yes, I do. Through our investigation, I know quite a bit about you, and the facts surrounding the shooting…… But the doctors think it would be better to give you time to see how much comes back to you on your own.”
The detective did not try to mask her admiration. “The reason I stopped by is that I am concerned about you. I’m not here as a police officer. There will be time for that. It’s just that in this line of work, I see the worst of humanity – but with you, I see the very best part of who we are. I just want you to get well because you deserve nothing less.”
Mia studied Baker intently and wondered why she was treating her with so much consideration and thoughtfulness. Being this nice wasn’t part of the job and yet she seemed to be going out of her way to be kind.
However, because the detective had dropped by, Mia now faced a dilemma. As it turned out, the patient had some critical news to share, but she was unsure if she should tell the detective before she spoke to her doctors. Hesitating, she thought it over before deciding that she owed it to the police to inform them first. Mia took a deep breath and said, “Last night some memories started coming back…… I think I know what my job was and where the shooting took place.”
Caught off guard, Baker didn’t know whether to pursue the information or defer to the doctors. After some quick internal debate, she concluded that it would be appropriate to answer a few questions as long as it didn’t go too far. “All right. We can talk a little bit – but I don’t want to go against the wishes of your medical team.”
“Okay.” Mia’s brow creased with concentration as she said, “Last night, I began to see images, nothing you would call disturbing, just little flashes of things. At first, I didn’t know if they were real or if I was just imagining them, so I didn’t tell the doctors, but now I am sure they are real. I believe I know what I was doing when I was shot.”
The detective listened carefully, not wanting to interrupt the victim’s train of thought.
As her eyes began to turn red, Mia said, “Please tell me if I’m wrong – but I think I might have been a teacher, and I was in a classroom.”
Baker swallowed hard as a lump began to form in her throat. This was a tremendous breakthrough for Mia as well as for the prosecution of the gunman, and an immense sense of relief began to wash over the detective. “That’s right, Miss Fleming. You are a teacher, and you were at school.”
Tears began to streak down her cheeks as Mia said, “And I don’t think I was alone when the gunman forced his way in.”
Because the patient was getting upset, Baker knew she had to be cautious.
With her voice beginning to break with emotion, Mia asked the question that had haunted her over the last eighteen hours since the memories started to return. “I’ve tried everything, but I just can’t picture any of the students in my mind. I can’t see their faces. I don’t even know what age or grade I was teaching.”
Mia took a deep breath and then shaking, pleaded in desperation, “Please tell me, Detective. I’ve got to know. Were any of my students killed?”
Baker looked her in the eye and said, “You were the only person in your classroom who was hurt.”
The patient dissolved into sobs, but before the detective could explain any further, the door opened and a nurse walked in. She took one look at what appeared to be a distraught patient, frowned at the detective, and said firmly, “I think it would best for you to go. Now.”
Realizing she had made a mistake allowing the questioning to occur without consulting the doctors first, Baker didn’t want to protest and make things worse. Standing up she said, “Mia, I’m going to go and let you get some rest. But I promise I will come back with answers to all of your questions.”
Mia nodded and continued to cry softly.
As Baker left the room, the nurse fixed her with a hard glare, but the detective couldn’t help but be pleased because, although it was painful for the victim, having the ability to recall events accurately was crucial in providing the testimony required to lock her assailant away.
Next up for Baker was keeping her promise to Mia. She had an idea about how to provide the teacher with all the information she needed. First, the detective would speak to the doctors, and if they said it was okay, she would follow her plan and visit again as soon as possible.
Fortunately for Mia, she did not have to wait too long. The next morning, Baker knocked on the patient’s door and entered carrying a case containing a laptop computer. She was followed by the neurologist who headed the medical team responsible for providing care for the shooting victim.
Never expecting to see the two of them together, this meeting struck Mia as quite unusual.
Baker asked, “How are you today?”
Mia smiled weakly. “Not too bad. It seems like I’m doing a little better each day.”
The neurologist agreed. “You have made significant progress, and that is why we are both here today.”
Mia looked from one to the other in confusion. “I don’t understand.”
Baker stepped forward and said, “We have something we want to show you.” The detective opened the case and unpacked the laptop. She grabbed the adjustable overbed rolling tray usually used for mealtime and swung it into position. Then she placed the laptop on the table and pushed the power button.
The detective gazed tenderly at the woman who through no fault of her own had caused their lives to intersect. “Your doctors have given me permission to show you something that might stir some memories for you. After you watch this short video, I’d be more than willing to answer any questions you have – with no restrictions. Are you ready, Miss Fleming?”
Still unsure about what was happening Mia said, “I guess so.”
Baker reached for a box of tissues by the bed and handed them to Mia. “You might need these because when I push play you are going to see your students. They were with you the day of the shooting. The important thing is, because of you, none of them were injured. Perhaps seeing their faces will help you remember them, but even if you don’t, I promise, they will never forget you.”
Mia’s heart raced, and her throat tightened as the video began to flicker to life. The first thing that appeared on the screen were the words: MISS FLEMING’S CLASS. That image then dissolved into a group photo of thirteen young children.
There was no delay in Mia’s reaction. The moment the photo appeared, Detective Baker’s idea started to work. As the patient scanned the picture, torrents of memories were unleashed and everything about the crime came flooding back to her. The beautiful innocent faces on the screen had reached out and touched her in a way that nothing else could.
As she stared intently at her young students, she saw two boys and three girls who had Down syndrome. She saw four children using wheelchairs, and several others supporting themselves with walkers. All of them were smiling and waving. It only took a split second for Mia to remember that she was a Special Education teacher, and these were her pupils who she had protected with her life. She could hardly breathe as a wave of raw emotion swept over her.
The video continued, and one by one each precious child took a turn in front of the camera. They told their favorite teacher how much they missed her and how sorry they were that the bad man had hurt her. And they all thanked Miss Fleming for keeping them safe. Ten of the children were verbal, and three used sign language, but no matter how they expressed themselves, their love was the same.
Baker watched the shooting victim closely. Each time a new face appeared on the screen, Mia’s reaction of unbridled joy tugged at the world-weary detective’s heart. Happily, the teacher not only called each student by name, but she could also remember every detail about them.
At the conclusion of the video, the entire school, both students and faculty were gathered together in the cafeteria. A large banner was unrolled that read:
MISS FLEMING IS OUR HERO!
Then together in one voice, they shouted, “We love you, Miss Fleming!! Get well soon!!” With everyone cheering and clapping the video faded to black.
For a brief time, there was dead silence. Baker glanced at the neurologist who shrugged. Neither of them knew for sure what her reaction would be, but all at once, Mia broke down sobbing.
As her voice choked with emotion, she asked, “How could I have forgotten the children I love so much?”
The detective smiled. “You do love them. You love them so much you were willing to give up your life to save them.”
Mia took her stinging eyes off of the computer screen and stared at Baker in disbelief.
The detective said, “That’s right. When the shooter burst into the room, you attacked him with all the strength and fury you could muster. You knew he was coming because you heard the gunfire from down the hall when he shot the security guard.”
Mia’s face froze. “Oh no. Max. Is he alive or –”
Baker stopped her. “He was seriously wounded, but he will be fine.”
Mia was relieved. “Thank God.”
The neurologist spoke up and said, “Mia, I believe it is time for the detective to fill you in on what exactly occurred that morning in your classroom.”
Still crying, Mia gasped, “Yes, please. Tell me now.”
Baker was glad she could finally discuss the shooting freely, so she eagerly began. “What you did, Miss Fleming was remarkable. You heard a shot fired down the hallway, and you took quick action. There was no place to take the children that wouldn’t have exposed them to the shooter coming in your direction, and there was no lock on your door, so you ran to your desk and pushed and dragged it into position against the door, blocking the shooter’s entry. Then you turned over all of the tables and helped the children hide behind them including carefully lifting each child out of their wheelchair and placing them in a safe position. And, incredibly, you did all that within about thirty seconds.”
Hearing this was overwhelming to Mia because as Baker was describing it, she was actually able to picture it all in her mind. Becoming excited, she said, “Yes! That’s right. The children were scared, of course, and I was trying to assure them that everything would be okay. Then there was a crashing noise as the man started trying to push his way in. At that point, my students began to scream and cry. I didn’t want to leave them, but I didn’t have a choice. I ran to the door and began to hit him with my fists.” Suddenly, Mia stopped.
Confused, and embarrassed she asked the doctor, “But why couldn’t I remember the children before now?”
The neurologist explained. “It is common with brain injuries. Your mind was blocking out the memory of your students because of fear.”
Mia was not following. “What do you mean?”
The doctor responded, “You were afraid that some of your students might have been killed, and your mind was protecting you the only way it could from confronting such news.”
Baker added, “But the important thing is that all of the children were safe because of your heroic actions.”
“No. No. I am not a hero.” Mia protested. “I was just trying to protect my students.”
The detective said, “I respectfully disagree. You saved thirteen young lives, and for your act of courage, you’ve paid a price that will challenge you for the rest of your life. That is the very definition of what it means to be a hero. And I’m not the only one who thinks that. When you get ready, the press is waiting for you.”
The Neurologist added, “That’s right. You are quite the celebrity.”
Mia didn’t believe it. “The Press? You mean the local newspapers want to talk to me?”
Baker chuckled. “Yes, the local newspapers…… and the local TV stations, and all of the networks like NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, and so forth. Everyone is clamoring to be the first to interview you.”
“But that is ridiculous,” Mia argued.
The detective tried to think of a way to make her understand. “Miss Fleming, how tall are you?”
“5’2”. Why do you ask?”
“And how much do you weigh?”
“105 pounds. Less now, I’m sure.”
Baker attempted to paint a clear picture for her. “You are 5’2” and 105 pounds. The shooter is 6’6” and 285 pounds. And yet you fought him long enough to save all of those lives.”
“I just did what I had to do,” Mia contended.
The detective didn’t give an inch. “In the eyes of the public, you protected some of the most vulnerable children in society. Ignoring grave personal risk, you took on an armed man that was more than twice your size, and you came as close to being killed as a person can. You have had a profound effect on people, and even though weeks have passed, they have not forgotten you. There were countless stories and news reports when you first came out of the coma. People were overjoyed to know you would be okay.”
Mia was stunned. “I just can’t believe all of this.”
Detective Baker’s face broke into a huge grin. “Miss Fleming, it gets even better.”
“The parents of your students in conjunction with the school district set up a fund to help with your medical expenses. But word spread rapidly online, and people from all over the United States began to make donations. The last time I checked, the fund had more than $700,000.00 in it.”
Mia gasped. “Oh, my God! You’ve got to be kidding!”
Baker waited for it to all sink in, then she said, “You’re not just famous locally, Miss Fleming. Because of your bravery, you are a national hero. To many people, myself included, you represent all that is good in the world. You are who we all aspire to be.”
Mia covered her mouth not knowing what to say.
The neurologist assumed a professional tone and said, “Mia, I want to assure you that today has been monumental. You have made tremendous strides in your recovery. I am so happy for you. But for now, I’m going to have to step out. I’ve got other patients I need to check on.”
Smiling, Mia replied, “Thank you, Doctor – for everything.”
The neurologist said, “You are most welcome.” Nodding at the detective, he left the room.
Baker turned to Mia and said, “Miss Fleming, I just have one more thing I would like to do. If you would indulge me, there is someone I would like for you to meet. The individual is in the waiting room with my partner.”
Still on cloud nine after seeing her students, she said, “That would be fine, under one condition. Please stop calling me Miss Fleming. It’s just Mia.”
The detective laughed. “Fair enough.” Then leaning in, she said conspiratorially, “When I’m not in my official capacity, my name is Barbara.”
“Barbara! I like that name. It suits you.”
Baker said, “My mother was a great admirer of Barbara Jordan.”
Mia understood. “MS Jordan was an amazing woman – and so are you.”
“Thank you. You are very kind. I won’t be gone long.” The detective walked out, and Mia leaned back, resting her head on the pillow. She could hardly believe what had taken place in the last few minutes. It was such a relief that seeing the faces of her students had rekindled her memory allowing her to finally put all of the pieces together. Most importantly, they were all safe. One by one she pictured them, and the horror they all faced. Even now, it was terrifying to imagine the danger they were in.
Her thoughts were interrupted when the door opened, and Baker stuck her head in. “Miss Fleming – sorry – Mia, I would like for you to meet someone.”
The detective opened the door wide and taking small steps slowly walked in while holding the hand of a tiny girl with Down syndrome. Baker’s face was radiant as she said, “I would like to introduce you to my daughter.”
Mia stared at the little girl, and once again tears began to burn her eyes. She looked up at the large intimidating detective and saw tears rolling down her cheeks as well.
The mystery of why Barbara Baker had taken such a special interest in her case was now solved, and with that revelation, the detective no longer seemed scary or threatening, instead she was just a devoted and loving mom.
Baker said proudly, “This is Michelle. I followed my mother’s example and named her after someone I admire; Mrs. Obama.”
Mia smiled warmly. “Hello, Michelle. It is so nice to meet you.”
The little girl ducked her head and said shyly. “I saw you on TV.”
The detective laughed. “See, I told you that you’re famous!”
Mia was always impressed by the eternal bond between a mother and her child, but with this relationship, it seemed to have even more meaning. “She is perfect. What a sweetheart!”
“Thank you. This little girl is five years old, and she is very excited to start school next year.”
Hearing the word school made Michelle clap her hands enthusiastically.
The detective whispered, “She is too young to understand what happened in your classroom.”
Mia sighed. “Unfortunately, all of my students will need counseling to help them deal with what they witnessed.”
“That has already been taken care of,” Baker reassured her. “They will continue to receive whatever treatment they need for as long as it’s required.”
“Oh, that is wonderful! What a huge relief.” After several moments, Mia, who ordinarily didn’t like to worry out loud, went ahead and mentioned another pressing concern. “I just hope that when I’m ready, the school district will consider re-hiring me. Of course, that would be ironic. A Special Ed teacher with a physical challenge.”
“Mia, I don’t think that will be an issue at all.” Barbara Baker paused, and then with a catch in her voice, she said, “I can speak for families all across this nation when I say there is not a mother alive who wouldn’t want you to be the teacher of their child.”