Mother of 8-year-old boy paralyzed from Highland Park shooting thanks those who prayed: ‘We will never be the same’

·5 min read

Keely Roberts made her first statement to the press this week nearly a month after the Highland Park mass shooting that changed her family’s life, thanking those who prayed for victims including her young son, Cooper.

“Cooper is a miracle,” Roberts said of the 8-year-old, who is paralyzed from the waist down as a result of a gunshot wound that severed his spinal cord. She asked for continued prayers as the boy has endured several high-risk surgeries and infections that complicated his recovery.

Though the boy’s condition continues to be serious, it has improved day by day, according to his mother. He has even visited the playroom at Comer Children’s Hospital where he is being treated several times the past week.

Roberts said that she is optimistic that her son will soon be transferred to Shirley Ryan Ability Lab.

But the painful memory of the shooting reminds her that the family’s life will never be the same. Cooper’s twin brother Luke was also injured.

“We were shot. … I can hardly say it. … None of us — Cooper, Luke, me, our family, the other victims and their families, our community — will ever be the same,” Roberts said in a written statement. “Seven people were murdered that day, and our hearts go out to their families, friends and all whose lives they touched. And we are among the dozens of others — injured, shattered, hanging on and fighting through.”

Like hundreds of other families, Keely Roberts, her husband Jason and their twins attended the Independence Day parade in their hometown of Highland Park. Just minutes after it began, a gunman began to shoot at the crowd from a rooftop along the route.

Keely Roberts, a superintendent at Zion Elementary School District 6, was shot in the foot and leg, and Luke was wounded in the leg by shrapnel. Their four older daughters did not attend the parade.

In a video interview, Roberts recalled the morning of the shooting for the first time. In face of the tragedy, the mother highlighted the “humanity and decency” of those “who didn’t think twice and ran back into the scene and helped us.”

“It was a beautiful act of kindness … it saved my life, it saved my children. Cooper would not be alive today if it were not for the act of these people who just risked everything,” she said.

Even though Luke suffered minor physical injuries, she said “what he has to carry is devastating.”

The mother recalled Luke had to hold a tourniquet on her leg and see his twin brother’s lips go gray. He sat covered in their blood as good Samaritans provided first aid and kept both Cooper and Keely alive.

“I’m heartbroken and I’m sad,” the mother said, “but it is a losing question to ask why (because) there is no good answer and that is not productive.”

A day after the shooting, even after undergoing several procedures for injuries suffered in the mass shooting herself, Roberts told doctors she needed to be discharged from the hospital she was in so she could be with Cooper, who was at a different hospital. The mother of six has injuries will require ongoing orthopedic treatment.

“I am so incredibly sad for Cooper and what he faces on the road ahead. He is athletic and fun-loving and never met a person who wasn’t an instant friend — how does he move on?” Roberts asked.

“I am also sad for my family, especially for Luke, for what he dealt with and saw. … But I want to be clear: What our family has learned from this horrible event is not hate,” she said. “Instead, we have learned to see the unbelievably generous, caring, good, and kind spirit that makes up the vast majority of our world. We have learned that good will always prevail over bad; love always wins. What we feel, after all, we have been through, is genuinely grateful, hopeful and blessed.”

Cooper’s story has captivated people all over the world. Week after week, the family offers updates on his recovery, asking for continued prayers and thanking those who have stood by their side in any shape or form.

A GoFundMe page to cover the medical and financial needs the boy and the family will face as their journey of healing continues has collected nearly $2 million.

“I am human, I am a mom. I feel shocked, angry, and very, very sad … but I am so grateful and appreciative; this is a view and a lesson I never wanted to learn, but mostly I am humbled by the amount of love and kindness coming our way,” Roberts said.

Last week, Cooper’s spirits were lifted after receiving a care package from the Milwaukee Brewers, his favorite baseball team, that included a jersey with his name on it.

Still, the boy “is not out of the woods.” He is expected to have another heart surgery but it is unknown when and it is unclear if he will gain any kind of mobility again in the future.

Roberts also highlighted the lack of and the need for mental health services for the survivors of the shooting.

“This tragedy that happened to our family, our community, has brought to light the importance of making sure that those who survive, those who suffer from the memories of that violent day, receive the mental health services they need to process and move forward from that horrific experience,” Roberts said, “to return to our lives, our families, our jobs and our community with strength and hopefulness for a better future that we can be a part of making.”

larodriguez@chicagotribune.com