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The July Fourth parade shooting paralyzed a boy. His life remains shattered 2 years later, mom says

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CHICAGO (AP) — Keely Roberts counts the days, not years, since a deadly shooting at an Independence Day parade in 2022 injured her and left one of her twin boys paralyzed from the waist down.

It has been 730 days since her now-10-year-old son Cooper could chase his brother Luke in their suburban Chicago backyard, play soccer or jump on his bed.

“It is the 730th anniversary of the total annihilation of our lives,” the Highland Park mother told reporters Wednesday. “That horrific day lives on forever, especially in Cooper’s life, which irrevocably shattered.”

Roberts and two of her children are among the dozens of people wounded in the shooting that took seven lives in the suburb about 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Chicago. As Highland Park officials planned the first parade since the shooting, victims have been trying to make sense of what happened, many of them feeling fresh pain.

The second anniversary comes a week after a shocking court hearing in which suspected shooter Robert E. Crimo III was expected to change his plea to guilty and allow family members and those wounded to address him directly. Instead, Crimo abruptly changed his mind about the plea deal during the proceedings, which victims and their family members said inflicted more suffering. His trial is scheduled for next year.

“There’s not really going to be closure on this for us. The wound is too big; it’s too deep,” Roberts said. “There’s just nothing healing or restorative or comforting about justice delayed, especially justice delayed in a way that feels cruel.”

Roberts said she almost didn’t attend the hearing but wanted a chance to address Crimo directly in court by reading a victim impact statement. Instead, she spent the hearing holding back tears. She said it felt especially difficult when Crimo shocked everyone and entered the courtroom in a wheelchair. Authorities later said he requested it because he felt too nervous to walk.

“Cooper never gets to decide if he wants to use a wheelchair or not,” Roberts said. “He is forced to live his life now a paraplegic.”

Roberts was shot in the leg, while her son Cooper — the youngest of the injured victims — was shot in the back, severing his spinal cord. His twin brother was hit by shrapnel.

Roberts said her leg injury is still painful and yet another reminder of what happened. The family has been renovating their home to make it accessible for Cooper.

While he has grappled with not being able to walk again, he has been resilient, Roberts said. He has taken to adaptive sports, including sled hockey and wheelchair basketball.

Highland Park leaders this year announced the return of the Fourth of July parade. Last year, the city hosted a community walk instead. Thursday’s parade will have a new downtown route, and the city will also host an indoor remembrance ceremony.

Mass shootings often surge in the summer months, and the Fourth of July has historically been one of the deadliest days of the year. But city officials said it was important to return to traditions amid the trauma.

“Independence Day has traditionally been a special opportunity for our community to come together with beloved traditions,” Mayor Nancy Rotering said in a statement. “As we continue our journey as one Highland Park, we do so with respect, compassion, and support for all whose lives were forever changed on July 4, 2022, while maintaining the community spirit that has always been a hallmark of Highland Park’s Independence Day events.”

Roberts said that her family won’t go and that she plans to go out of town with all of her six children to relax on a lake in Wisconsin.

“I don’t know,” she said, “if we’ll ever be able to attend the parade again.”

Associated Press