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January 10, 2005 11:59 PM

A Survivor's Story

At 24, Cassandra Breen found herself with a baby boy she thought the world of, family and friends who thought everything of her, and independence from an abusive relationship.

But in September, prosecutors say her ex-boyfriend put a gun to her forehead and shot. She made it, and today she is defying the odds and making her own definition of "survivor."

The morning of September 30th started like any other for Cassandra Breen.

Cassandra Breen says, "I was hurrying and getting him ready."

She put her 18-month-old son Jeremiah in the backseat of her SUV in Baltic.

Cassandra Breen says, "That was my normal routine, put him in car seat, put my purse on the seat and go."

It's then investigators say Jeremiah's father Fred Johnson came up to Cassandra, put a gun to her forehead and pulled the trigger. Jeremiah watched from his car seat.

Cassandra Breen says, "I didn't think it would ever happen to me." I thought I was stronger than that...

Cassandra remained conscious long enough to give paramedics Johnson's name. Sheriff's deputies questioned and later arrested the 40-year-old.

Cassandra can't talk about specifics of that September day when she had her car parked just up the hill. That's because the case is ongoing and they don't want to jeopardize anything.

But detectives do say she remembers what happened that morning.

For several weeks Cassandra came in and out of a coma. Even today, the bullet remains in her head. Taking it out would do more harm than good. With her family at her side, many wondered if she'd make it.

Shane Breen, Cassandra's brother, says, "I think for the first month, every day, all day."

Cassandra Breen says, "They said being shot in the head, the brain damage, was just like having a stroke, so I had no movement on the left side of my body."

She went home for a day to celebrate Christmas with her little boy.

Cassandra Breen says, "A lot of my motivation for a long time was Christmas, coming home with him."

Then last week, three to six months before doctors thought possible, Cassandra went home for good.

Ruth Breen says, "She's always been a fighter, had a will to keep going. I think that's what helped her."

Her steps may be slow, but not small. She says, "I got my hip and my knee back, not my foot, and nothing in my arm."

Cassandra goes to physical therapy three times a week. There's a slight scar on her forehead, she uses a cane to get around, and there's pain, even when taking a shower.

Cassandra Breen says, "The water on my neck still hurts."

According to court papers, she's known pain for a long time. Protection orders filed by Cassandra and Johnson in the last few years, tell of physical and verbal abuse.

Cassandra Breen says, "It had come to the point where he'd come here and it wasn't about Jeremiah, it was about arguing with. I said no more, you're not coming here to see him."

John Breen, Cassandra's dad, says, "Don't ever think it can't happen to you, there's always a possibility."

Ruth Breen, Cassandra's mom, says, "You have to put faith in your children that they make the right decision."

Cassandra Breen says, "I was just always watching over my back. I told my friends if anything happened, this is who did it." Prosecutors say she was right.

Cassandra Breen says, "It's better for my child that I take the brunt of it, it's always going to be better for him."

Cassandra wants to be back to her job as a collector by February, even if she has to type with one hand. But she plans to get left arm to work again. And her goals don't stop there. She hopes to get rid of her cane and eventually go to business school. For those who try to stop her, this survivor wants them to know this:

Cassandra Breen says, "I'm still here and I feel it was a total waste of time for whoever shot me. It may take me a little longer to get somewhere, but I'll get there."

Cassandra and her family say they're amazed at the support they've received from the community of Baltic.

As for the case against Fred Johnson, there is a jury trial scheduled for February 28th. Investigators are still looking for the gun used in the shooting.

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