I was a fifth-grade teacher at a local magnet school when a shooter showed up at my doorstep with a gun — pointed at my head. I didn’t have time to run, so I said a prayer. The shooter pulled the trigger. The gun jammed. I tried to run as I heard the gunfire four more times. I felt the bullets sink into my chest, torso, and thigh.

As I sunk to the ground, all I could think about was my students. I had told them I would never miss a day of school unless I was dead or not coming back. I didn’t want to break my promise. I had to get to school.

The police were called by someone who heard the shots, and by the time the police arrived, I was covered in blood, and it was questionable whether I would live. The police arrested my shooter, and the ambulance whisked me away to emergency surgery. A nurse told me that if I lived, I would have complications for the rest of her life. When I got out of surgery, I was told that eight of my students had refused to leave the hospital until they saw that I was alive.

Months later, I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard the judge declare “25 years” as he banged his gavel.

When my shooter was finally sentenced on March 14, 2000, I mentally planned my life around his release, for my gunshot wounds had healed with complications, but my fear would never fully dissipate. My shooter’s expected release date was Nov. 24, 2023. I was still teaching but was eligible to retire in May 2023 by returning 30 personal sick leave days to the school system. I made my life plan around his release: I would continue working as a teacher, serving the children and state of Alabama; I would retire when eligible; I would leave the state before my shooter’s release.

I needed to be gone when he was released — so far gone that he couldn’t hunt me down to shoot me again. I had forgiven him, but I didn’t know what he was capable of. My worst nightmare was that he would show up at my school, putting my students’ lives in danger.

As the years, months, and days ticked down, I grew increasingly worried. My shooter was up for parole in 2010. “How could he be up for parole so early?!” I questioned as my family, and I made the long drive to Montgomery to testify against his release.

We went through metal detectors, sat in the crowded waiting room, and listened as the foreign process of testifying before the parole board was explained. I remember feeling gratitude for the victims’ advocates and Attorney General’s victims’ employees who explained the process and testified alongside me against my shooter’s release. As I anxiously awaited the parole board’s decision, I began to pray. Relief flooded my body when I heard two blessed words: “parole denied.”

My shooter was up for parole two more times before his release. In 2016, my family and I made the long drive again, facing the parole board and asking that my shooter stay in prison for my safety. In 2021, because of COVID-19, I wrote to the parole board since I could not appear in person — hoping beyond hope that my written words would be sufficient to keep my shooter locked away. Thankfully, the parole board heard my pleas, and my shooter remained behind bars.

I received the fateful call on Feb. 1, 2023. Because of a law passed by the Alabama Legislature, my shooter was released. Almost a year early. With just an hour's warning.

Words cannot describe the panic and terror that gripped my chest. How could this be? I did everything right! Testified at every parole hearing! Made every plan to get away before he was released. And now, I found out, with nearly no notice, that my shooter was being released practically as we spoke. How did I get no prior notice?! How could I make any plans to protect myself? Fear clouded my mind.

I later learned that Attorney General Steve Marshall had sued the Department of Corrections, obtaining an injunction to ensure that at least I would receive prior notice that my shooter was going free. But the law had not stipulated a timeframe in which I should be notified.

Now I had no time to leave teaching, to move, to hide my address, to hide the address of the school I worked at, to seek shelter and safety, or to make any plans at all. How could this be happening?

I think it’s easy to understand my fear. After all, I had a plan. I relied on the criminal justice system to function as promised. Lawmakers turned my life upside down with the stroke of a pen.

It’s too late for me to make plans, but I hope my story can help other victims. I would spare others my fear and pain. I ask the Alabama Legislature to right this wrong.

[Since the writing of this article, Terri’s shooter was arrested as a fugitive eight days after his release.]

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