JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. - Iesha Mann is speaking out for the first time since a bullet hit her in the back.
The 25-year-old single mother of two was walking her dog shortly before 11 p.m. Oct. 15 when she was caught in the crossfire of a gunfight in Jacksonville Beach. The shooting left her paralyzed.
Mann spoke with Channel 4's Jennifer Waugh from her hospital bed about the night her life changed. Mann also allowed Channel 4's news cameras into the local rehab facility where she is now fighting to walk again.
"I didn't even know I was shot," she told Waugh.
Mann said she had recently moved from the Westside to Jacksonville Beach so her young boys could be raised in a better and safer environment. She said she had planned to turn around that night and not walk any extra blocks, but her mother's dog was excited to be outside and was pulling her.
Mann said she never heard anyone arguing or yelling as she walked down Third Avenue South near Seventh Street until the gunfire.
"I knew something was wrong because my feet were up in the air and I couldn't feel my feet, I couldn't feel my legs," she said.
Mann said waiting for an ambulance felt like an eternity.
"I just started praying. I just started praying and kept saying I didn't want to die," she said.
Mann's two boys, 8-year-old Jeremiah and 2-year-old Tramaine, mean everything to her, and now she worries about her two sons being raised by a single mother who's struggling to explain to her oldest boy that she may never walk again.
"I just explain to him that mommy's not going to be there for a while, but you can always come see me whenever you want," Mann said. "He's just like, 'Mom, I'm just happy you're OK and we'll get through this together.'"
For now, the two boys are staying with their grandmother and visit with their mom at Brooks Rehabilitation. Mann has started rehab and the long journey to get back home with her kids.
While she's learning to roll over without the use of her legs, her family hopes her paralysis is only temporary.
"We're praying, we're not going to say she is paralyzed, we're not going to use those words, she's just not walking," said Feldreka Mann, Iesha's sister. "In the Lord's name, we're going to see her walk again."
Police have arrested three men in the shooting: 35-year-old Vernon Robinson, 19-year-old Denard Robinson and 17-year-old Daniel Jarrett. Police say the two youngest suspects are known gang members.
When Waugh asked Mann what she would say to the men accused of being responsible for her shooting, Waugh said she was surprised by the answer.
"I would just say that I forgive them," Mann said, "because I'm blessed to be here. I can't hold grudges towards anyone."
Mann said she knew of the suspects from the neighborhood, but had never talked with them. Police still have not said what motivated the shooting.
In the meantime, the bullet is still in Mann's back because doctors say it's too dangerous to remove right now. Mann has a tough road ahead and an uncertain future. She said doctors should know in about three weeks whether the swelling is perhaps causing the paralysis. But as of now, she still has no feeling from the waist down.
Mann was supposed to go for a job interview the day after the shooting, so right now she has no way of making any money. Her family has established a fund at Bank of America to help raise money for her medical bills and therapy. To donate, contact the bank and specify the Iesha Mann Donation Fund, account No. 229046801374.
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