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Despite her efforts, the head wound left a permanent mark on the young teacher. Fortunately, my ability to express myself has returned almost a hundred percent. My vision never did improve. I just see pieces of everything. She wanted to make his life miserable. They all died either during the gun battle or the storming of the plane except for one.

At first, he was sentenced to 25 years in a Malta prison and released after eight because of good behavior and pressure from Libya. He is now serving time in the United States in a federal prison. For so long, I was connected to him.

Miles to Go Before I Sleep: A Survivor's Story of Life After a Terrorist Hijacking

I wanted to make him as miserable as I could even though I never saw him again. The anger eventually overwhelmed Jackie.

But, guided by a therapist, Jackie realized she had to let go of the bitterness or it would destroy her. I had these huge headaches and had epilepsy. I knew I had to let go or my physical body would not have made it through. I would probably be dead by the end of the year because of what I was doing to myself…the anger I was holding in. I finally saw a therapist three times a week and with her guidance, I started to let go of some of the anger. Although it took her sixteen years to forgive the terrorist who shot her, Jackie says life has taught her an invaluable lesson: forgiveness frees the forgiver more than the forgiven.


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It sort of goes slow. There were times I thought I was in forgiveness because I felt light hearted. You could see that genuine smile in my face.

Miles To Go Before I Sleep A Survivors Story Of Life After A Terrorist Hijacking

Then there were times when I felt out of forgiveness. During the trial, I saw him. At that moment, I realized I had forgiven him. I had finally released the anger that was inside of me and, for the first time in years, moved on with my life. Thanks to her therapist, Jackie was able to release the anger and the pain. Thanks to the power of prayer, Jackie found encouragement when times became unbearable.

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The bullet lodged deep in her brain after passing through structures that process sensory information and contribute to memory and spatial perception. The violence of its entry had set off shock waves across her whole brain, causing massive swelling throughout. When she awoke in a hospital ward in Malta, she knew that her eyesight was strangely constricted.

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But she could see well enough to know that her would-be executioner was in the next bed over. The words that had always flowed so easily failed to come to her.

Small choices, saved lives: Near misses of 9/11

Only after another passenger identified the surviving hijacker was he moved. Nor could she process the words coming into her brain. Told to brush her teeth, she needed to have the words repeated, the toothbrush displayed and a demonstration of how it was used.

Married just five months, Pflug returned with her then-husband to Minnesota and began an agonizing recovery. With no rehabilitation help forthcoming, she inventoried her own impairments as she discovered them and set about addressing them one by one. She needed to learn to tell time again, to recognize and count money, to hold more than a single thing in her memory at a time. Pressing a red pen to the page of a newspaper and only lifting it when she saw a period, she taught herself to make her eyes move from left to right across a page and to digest the meaning of one word, one phrase, one sentence, before moving on to the next.

With all her peripheral vision gone, she learned to navigate uneven surfaces and unfamiliar places by scanning her surroundings with the small central field that remained, and waving her hands to protect her flanks from unseen objects. For years, she contended with searing headaches, painful sensitivity to sound, epileptic seizures, terrifying nightmares and waking fears that made her want to shut herself off from the world.

Her fears that the terrorists would hunt her down and kill her were irrational, she told herself, and she marched herself to a therapist three times a week until she could exorcise her demons. Within two years, her skull was repaired with a metal plate, and within three years she was driving. Within five, her sensitivity to sounds began to subside, and she had worked her way from a kindergarten reading level to the 12th grade. With medication, her seizures were under control.