Sitting in her small blue wheelchair at the front of a Boston courtroom, Kai Leigh Harriott struggled to hold back her tears. Then she looked directly at the man whose bullet left her paralyzed nearly three years ago and spoke, loud and clear. "I forgive you, Anthony Warren," said Kai, 5. "What you done to me was wrong, but I still forgive [you]."

Cops were stunned and at least one court official wept. After word of Kai's forgiveness spread across the city, she received loads of well-wishes from Bostonians, and the city's mayor, Tom Menino, told a local newspaper, "I watched that on TV and I said, 'Oh my God, what courage.'" And Anthony Warren, the repeat felon offender who fired the gun, bowed his head in silence. Although—after legal maneuvering to have the charges against him dismissed—Warren, 29, had already decided to change his plea to guilty, it seemed only fitting that moments later he publicly accepted responsibility for the harm he caused. "She's a little trouper," says Kai's mom, Tonya David, 40, of her daughter's inspiring act. "She's my strength."

Kai's emotional appearance climaxed a story that began on a sweltering July night in 2003. Kai was sitting on the porch of her third-story apartment in Boston, with sister, Aja, then 14. Suddenly, a bullet from a .38-caliber revolver fired from below shattered the little girl's spine. "Something hit me in my back, and then the tears came out of my eyes," she recalls. Doctors delivered the news that Kai was paralyzed below the waist—and likely wouldn't walk again. "I thought," says her mom, "how can this be happening to Kai?"

Kai suffered through four months of rehabilitation at Boston's Franciscan Hospital for Children, where she learned to dress herself and use a wheelchair. "Even though I can't play on the swings, I can play with a ball," says Kai cheerfully. To accommodate Kai's wheelchair, David moved her family to a new house, but neither of them lets Kai's dis ability slow them down. Meanwhile Warren, the gunman, who was quarreling with one of Kai's neighbors when he fired the shot, was arrested hours later. In December, defiant that he would beat the multiple charges against him (including assault and battery with a dangerous weapon), he appeared in court to demand a reduction in his bail—and saw Kai for the first time since. "I think he just finally had enough time to consider which road he wanted to travel down," says Warren's attorney, Robert Zanello, of his client's sudden decision to plead guilty. A Suffolk Superior Court judge sentenced Warren to 13 to 15 years.

Led from the courtroom in handcuffs the day Kai forgave him, Warren paused to apologize to the family. He and David hugged. "I knew from the time Kai got shot [that] I had to forgive him," says Tonya David. "For God to heal her, for her to stay alive, vengeance wasn't mine to take."

  • Contributors:
  • Paysha Stockton Rhone/Boston,
  • Tom Duffy/Boston.