Eight-year-old Cooper Roberts returned to school this week after being shot and paralyzed in the July 4 attack in Highland Park, Illinois, for months, his family announced.
According to a family statement obtained by CNN, the young boy drove himself to class to join his twin brother Luke in third grade.
It marked a major milestone in Cooper’s long-term recovery, and one of his parents said they didn’t know it was coming.
“His life-threatening injuries and the significant rehabilitation he has required (and continues to require for hours each day) make it seem like we can only hope for a return to school in the distant future,” the statement said.
Cooper was shot in the back when a gunman armed with a semi-automatic rifle opened fire from a rooftop at a crowd gathered at the July 4 parade in Highland Park, killing seven people and wounding dozens more. Cooper’s mother, Keeley, and his twin brother, Luke, were also wounded in the shooting.
Since then, the little boy has a long way to go, having endured numerous surgeries, spent nearly a month in the pediatric intensive care unit, and was transferred to a rehabilitation center.
Cooper is still being treated for an injury and will have to return to school gradually, and in a limited capacity, his family said.
“Nevertheless, his return to school this week is an incredible milestone for a young boy who has been fighting for his life for almost three months on the first day of third grade from a serious gunshot wound. Struggling with injuries, she is now confined to a wheelchair,” the statement continued.
Cooper’s return is not without pain and grief as he manipulates a new reality that will undoubtedly change what it looks like at school.
“He was very upset about not being able to run around the fields with his friends during recess. He felt bad about not being able to play on the climbing frame, hang on the bar, slide down the slide, swing on the swing, play football. Heartbroken. He couldn’t have been there all day or even every day. He saw what he couldn’t do. However, Cooper went on to confirm to us that his spirit, his soul, his ‘Cooper’ was still there,” it says.
The family described Cooper’s return to school as emotional, recalling crying in the parking lot as the little boy pushed his cart into the school and crying as they drove out.
His family said that while Cooper was aware of the challenges he faced at school, he was excited to be reunited with his classmates.
“Watching our precious 8-year-old so brutally and violently taken from him – his life unnecessarily changed forever – countdown with such joy and excitement is the most humbling and full of our lives. One of the experiences of hope. The day that led to his return to school,” his family said. “Cooper is as aware of the new challenges he faces at school as any young boy, and he is willing to face them head on to reunite with the children and adults of his beloved school.”
His family said the “horrific, vicious act” that took place on July 4 did not deprive him of caring for others and his ability to find positivity in any situation.
“There is no doubt that we believe Cooper’s incredible story of surviving against all odds and his ongoing story of recovery is the result of the love and prayers he has received from so many people around the world,” his family said.