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FEATURE: One year later man hopeful, not bitter, after beating

Francisco Baires is still recovering, one year later, from a beating with a baseball bat that nearly killed him.

His attacker, Ryan Robert Baker, 28, didn’t get any money during the mugging downtown. He was sentenced Friday to 37 1/2 years in prison for aggravated assault and attempted armed robbery.

Baires, 30, now walks with a cane, can’t remember his dreams and remains partially paralyzed on the left side.

“Compared to the 5 percent chance of survival he had, he’s come a long way,” said Baires’ mother, Pamela Schultz, 56. “But he still has a lot of deficit, a lot that he’ll probably have his whole life. That’s heartbreaking.”

Baires’ message, however, is not one of bitterness or revenge. It’s of hope.

“I just wanted my life back,” Baires said. He’s getting it.

In January, after a five-month hiatus, the anthropology graduate student resumed studies at the University of Arizona and his job at the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Not all was uphill from there. Baires broke his right leg, his good one, on the first day of classes.

“Physically, I’m still pretty gimpy in terms of my walking,” he said. “I’m not that confident on my feet.

“I don’t have the fine movement in my left hand. It’s hard for me to open an envelope. I can’t raise my left arm above my shoulder.

“My left eye had gone in all the way. I had to wear an eye patch. I had to be monitored when I was eating. I couldn’t swallow.”

His memory of the June 26 assault is hazy, although he was told he gave an account of the attack to a police detective not long after it happened.

Baires and his girlfriend at the time were leaving a downtown bar about 2:30 a.m. when Baker jumped out of a car near Stone Avenue and Sixth Street and demanded cash and jewelry.

The couple had none. Baker beat Baires in the head with the bat.

Baires spent several days in a coma, underwent emergency surgery at University Medical Center to stop the bleeding in his brain, and was transferred to Northwest Hospital for a month of intensive rehabilitation.

“I wouldn’t call myself a pessimistic person before this happened,” Baires said, “but I always did see a lot of negativity, a lot of brutality and sadness in humanity. When I came out of this, I was just moved by the human compassion and grace.”

Most of his support comes from his family. His mother, grandfather, sister and others flocked to Arizona after the attack to be by his side.

His mom ended up moving from Florida to Tucson in April, with her husband, Carl, 75, and her mother, Mae Cody, 84.

More support came from friends, fellow students, UA’s anthropology department, nurses at UMC and total strangers who fed his visiting family members and gave them phone cards.

Baires’ support was rounded out by special prayers requested by his friend Kat Rodriguez. She asked Franciscan brothers and a group of religious fire dancers to pray for her friend’s recovery.

“All these different people – Franciscan brothers and indigenous dancers – were praying for me,” Baires said. “I just want to tell people there’s a grace that’s overwhelming.”

His mom shares his upbeat attitude, emphasizing it was never about revenge against Baker, but getting him off the streets.

“He’ll go right from prison to an old age home,” Baires said.

“I never ask why,” he said of life’s circumstances, “because I won’t get an answer. Some things we’re not going to know.

“I’d rather spend time counting my blessings.”

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This article originally appeared in the June 26, 2008, issue of the Tucson Citizen newspaper.

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