2 Years After Son Was Paralyzed in Highland Park Shooting, Mom Says Road to Recovery Is 'Unbelievably Difficult'

Seven people were killed and more than 40 were injured in the July 4, 2022, mass shooting

<p>Courtesy Keely Roberts</p> Cooper Roberts

Courtesy Keely Roberts

Cooper Roberts

It has been two years since a gunman opened fire at a Fourth of July parade in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park.

Seven people were killed and more than 40 were injured in the morning mass shooting on July 4, 2022.

Among those injured were Keely Roberts and her son Cooper, then 8, who was hit in the back with a bullet that exited his chest, damaging his aorta, liver, esophagus and spinal cord and paralyzing him from the waist down.

"This Fourth of July is the 730th [day] anniversary of the total annihilation of our lives," Roberts said in a virtual media briefing on Wednesday, July 3.

"It's been 730 days since Cooper was able to wake up, jump out of bed, and run down the stairs ready for his first breakfast of the day. ... That family who walked to the parade that awful day, they're gone. They no longer exist."

"Every one of our lives were damaged by the shooter and by this act of senseless violence," Roberts said. "This was a murderous attack on all of us. No American life went unscathed that day."

<p>Courtesy Keely Roberts</p>

Courtesy Keely Roberts

Related: One Mom's Powerful Story of Her Son's Fight for Life After Highland Park Mass Shooting

Over the last two years, Roberts says she has been amazed by Cooper's ability to stay positive. "He is truly still the same Cooper in terms of his personality, his outlook on life, his love for everything," she said. "He loves everyone and everything."

But, she said, "This is an unbelievably difficult road that he is on, and I think that this summer, as positive and optimistic as he is, I think it's been a hard summer to start to adjust to. He's a 10-year-old now. He's a big boy, and I think that he is really aware of what he's lost."

Suspect reverses course, pleads not guilty

Roberts was in court last week when alleged gunman Robert Crimo III, who was expected to plead guilty, changed his mind and entered a not guilty plea.

What happened, she said, was "another example of the re-victimization of victims, the continued infliction of extreme suffering on innocent people who continue to suffer in unthinkable ways each and every day."

Roberts said she almost didn't go to the hearing because "it is literally impossible to describe what it's like to have a total stranger try to kill you and your family."

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According to CNN, the suspect had initially agreed to plead guilty to seven counts of murder and 48 counts of aggravated battery, as well as a sentence of life in prison. He has been charged with 21 counts of first-degree murder, 48 counts of attempted murder and 48 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm.

His trial is now scheduled for Feb. 25, 2025, per CNN.

Related: A Former Teacher, a Loving Grandfather: What We Know About the Victims of the Highland Park Shooting

“I have come to believe that there's not really going to be closure for us," she said. "The wound is too big. It's too deep. But what there is going to be is justice. There's just nothing healing or restorative or comforting about justice delayed, especially justice delayed in a way that feels cruel."

Family might never attend parade again

Roberts said she and her family have been overwhelmed by the support they have received the last two years.

“Every single day, we are just blessed by the love and generosity of neighbors, of strangers, of people within our community, people outside our country, worldwide,” she said. “We've received messages of love and support. And it's been a very humbling experience as a parent — to feel like you went from a life where you were taking care of your family, where you felt like if your children needed something, you would take care of it. If your family needed something, you would be able to address it — to having to be in a place where you don't have all the answers, you don't have all the resources you need. It is humbling. And we have been so picked up in love by everyone that it's really been a story about love."

Roberts said she and her family will not be attending this year's Fourth of July parade, which is being held for the first time since the shooting.

"Truthfully, I don't know if we'll ever be able to attend the parade again," she said.

This year, the family plans to spend the holiday on a lake in Wisconsin.

“We'll just really lean into how much we have to be thankful [for], that my family is still intact,” she said. “There are families that lost loved ones in this shooting, and our hearts break with them. We will grieve every step of the way alongside those families.”

The suspect was on a rooftop overlooking the parade route when he fired more than 70 rounds from a high-powered rifle, per CNN.

Katherine Goldstein, 64; Irina McCarthy, 35; Kevin McCarthy, 37; Jacquelyn Sundheim, 63; Stephen Straus, 88; Nicolas Toledo-Zaragoza, 78; and Eduardo Uvaldo, 69, died in the shooting.

The suspect's father, Robert Crimo Jr., pleaded guilty last year to reckless conduct for allegedly helping his son procure a Firearm Owner’s Identification Card, per ABC News.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the Roberts family.

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