Months after he was shot and paralyzed in the Highland Park, Illinois, Fourth of July attack, 8-year-old Cooper Roberts returned to school this week, his family announced.
The young boy wheeled himself to class, ready to join his twin brother Luke in the third grade, according to a family statement obtained by CNN.
It marked a significant milestone in Cooper’s long recovery, one his parents said they didn’t know would ever come.
“The life-threatening nature of his injuries and the significant rehabilitation he has needed (and continues to need for hours every day) made it seem as though returning to school would be something we could only hope for way in the distant future,” the statement said.
Cooper was shot in the back when a gunman armed with a semi-automatic rifle fired from a roof into a crowd gathered for a July Fourth parade in Highland Park, killing seven people and injuring dozens. Cooper’s mother, Keely, and his twin brother, Luke, were also wounded in the shooting.
Since then, the young boy has been through numerous surgeries, nearly a month in pediatric intensive care, being transferred to a rehabilitation facility, and still has a long road ahead of him.
Cooper, still undergoing therapy for his injuries, will have to transition back to school gradually and is only returning at a limited capacity, his family said.
“Nevertheless, his return to school this week is an incredible milestone for a little boy who almost three months to the day of his first day of third grade had been desperately fighting for his life from critical gunshot wounds and is now wheelchair-bound,” the statement continued.
Cooper’s return is not without pain and sadness as he maneuvers a new reality, one that will undoubtedly change what being at school will look like.
“He is terribly sad about not getting to run around with his friends in the field at recess. He is heartbroken about not getting to play on the jungle gym, hang on the monkey bars, slide down the slide, swing on the swings, kick the ball. He can’t be there all day or even every day. He sees the things he cannot do. Yet, Cooper continues to affirm for us that his spirit, his soul, his “Cooperness” remains,” it said.
The family described Cooper’s return to school as an emotional one, recalling crying in the parking lot as the little boy wheeled himself into the school, and crying as they pulled out of the parking lot.
Although Cooper is aware of the challenges he faces back at school, he is excited about reuniting with his classmates, his family said.
“It has been one of the most humbling and hopeful experiences of our lives to watch our precious 8-year-old who has had so much cruelly and violently ripped away from him – his life needlessly and forever changed – so cheerfully and excitedly count down the days leading to his return to school,” his family said. “Cooper is as aware as any little boy can be of the new challenges ahead of him at school and he is willingly facing them head-on to be reunited with the children and adults from his school whom he loves so dearly.”
His family said that the “hideous, evil act” that occurred on July 4 did not rob him of his concern for others and his ability to find the positive in any situation.
“Without a shadow of a doubt, we believe that Cooper’s incredible story of survival against all odds and his continued story of healing is a result of the love and prayers he has received from so many people from around the world,” his family said.