As the gunman was about to open fire, 7-year-old Alexis Goggins lunged from the back seat of the SUV and threw herself across her mom, crying, "Don't hurt my mother!"

Six bullets from the 9 mm handgun slammed into Alexis, one piercing her right eye. Two slugs hit her mother.

Alexis' mother pulled through. But two weeks later, Alexis lies in critical condition, blind in one eye. And to her classmates and many people in this city so depressingly familiar with violence, the little girl is a hero.

"She was trying to save me," her mother, Seliethia Parker, 30, told The Associated Press on Monday. "My baby is just an angel to her mother. I thought as the mother, I'd be saving my child. I never thought my daughter would be saving me."

Alexis has undergone three operations since the shooting, and her mother sits by her bedside at Children's Hospital of Michigan.

As for the mother, she was seriously wounded, with one slug grazing her head and the other entering her chest and stopping just short of an artery. But she was released from the hospital just a few days later.

Parker's former boyfriend, Calvin Tillie, a 29-year-old ex-convict on parole, was arrested in the shooting and charged with two counts of assault with intent to commit murder, along with other offenses. He could get life in prison.

Alexis is learning-disabled and lags behind other youngsters her age. As a result, police say it may never be known whether Alexis meant to shield her mother from the bullets with her body. But Parker said that if her daughter hadn't put herself in between, "I really don't know. We might have been dead."

Parker said she met Tillie earlier this year and called off the relationship after three months, but he had other ideas. "He was harassing me," she said. "He would constantly call my house, popping up in the middle of the night."

Shortly after midnight on Dec. 2, police say, Alexis and her mother climbed into their friend Aisha Ford's vehicle for a late night birthday get-together for Ford's mother. The girl got into the back seat, and her mother took the front passenger seat.

Tillie, who had been standing outside the house in the shadows despite the cold, jumped into the back of the SUV, next to Alexis, and forced Ford to drive at gunpoint for several harrowing minutes until the woman convinced him she needed to stop for gas, according to an account the women gave police.

Ford told police she tried to stall for time while pumping gas. As she and the station attendant called 911, several shots erupted from inside the vehicle. Police say the girl had jumped toward her mother in the front seat.

Parker bolted from the SUV, screaming. Officers found Alexis curled beneath the steering wheel in a pool of blood. Tillie was arrested at the scene.

His attorney, Kim Basen Michon, asked for a psychological evaluation for Tillie. The lawyer was on vacation and could not be reached for comment Monday.

In addition to losing her right eye, Alexis was shot in the chin and jaw. Several days after the shooting, the little girl, her face horribly swollen and wrapped in bandages, stirred and squeezed her mother's hand.

"She is doing much better," Parker said. "She opened up one eye. Everything seems to be going great."

In Alexis' special education classroom at Campbell Elementary School, her classmates have named a stuffed toy with pink ears "Hero."

"We didn't want Alexis' spot to be vacant, so she's got a sweet bear to sit in her place until she comes back," said her teacher, Angela Lang.

Alexis suffered a stroke before age 1 and has epilepsy. Her teacher showed off a journal revealing strides Alexis had made in writing over the past few months. What started as an illegible series of lines had evolved into distinct letters: A, L and E.

"I know she can do it. There's no stopping Alexis," said her mother's cousin, Tonya Blockett-Colbert. "It may take her a little longer now because of this. But she is a fighter."