HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. (WLS) -- An 8-year-old boy paralyzed in the Highland Park parade shooting has returned to school, his parents said in a statement.
Cooper Roberts joined his twin brother, Luke, in third grade this week, marking "a very significant and special milestone" in his "slow, yet remarkable transition back to school," said his parents, Jason and Keely Roberts. The boy's life-threatening injuries made it seem like returning to school was something his family could only hope for.
"We were so nervous, we couldn't sleep the night before his first day back. We cried in the parking lot as he wheeled himself into the school, cried as we pulled out of the parking lot," they said. "We were just a mess! He loved every minute, and his exact words were, 'If I had not been shot, paralyzed, and had to be in a wheelchair, it would have been a perfect school day, but it was a really great day! I loved it!'"
Cooper's transition back to school will be slow and gradual due to necessary remaining therapy.
"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 parents said.
Cooper is aware of the new challenges ahead of him at school and is willingly facing them head-on, so he can reunite with the children and adults "whom he loves so dearly," his parents said. The 8-year-old fears how paralysis will impact his environment and has anxiety surrounding countless unknowns.
"These run across his mind and ours literally all day long, like an endless reel of worry," Cooper's parents said. "We all are learning how to cope with these components of our new reality."
Despite those fears, Cooper's family celebrated him for accomplishing a goal he focused on.
"He has been so unbelievably brave and genuinely so overjoyed to return to school," Cooper's parents said. "It was a huge hurdle, and we pray his positive feelings can continue."
Still, there will be setbacks and disappointments, Cooper's parents said, calling the process an "uphill" journey.
"Beyond the physical impact of the shooting, the impact of the trauma on all of us is always, always just below the surface; waiting to rear its ugly head," they said. "Cooper's return to school is not without sadness and pain... He sees the things he cannot do."
Cooper cannot run around with his friends at recess, his parents said. He is heartbroken about not playing on the jungle gym, hanging on the monkey bars, sliding down the slide, swinging on the swings and kicking the ball.
"Yet, Cooper continues to affirm for us that his spirit, his soul, his 'Cooperness' remains," his parents said. "The hideous, evil act did not take that from him because he won't let it. He is always going to be more concerned about others than he is for himself, find the positive in any situation, still be 'the sporty kid,' and will always love his family and friends fiercely. That is who Cooper has always been and that is who he still is."
Cooper's parents continued to ask for prayers for their son.
"Cooper has a long, long road ahead of him in rehabilitation on his journey of recovery," they said. "We believe that Cooper's story is just beginning and that he can, and will, show the world that there is no greater power in the world than the power of love."
A family-friendly fundraiser will be held to support him on Sunday from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Whiskey River Bar & Grill in Glenview. There will be a magic show, a live DJ face-painters, a tie-dye station and raffles. Admission for attendees 10 years old and older is $20 and includes food. Admission is free for children 9 and under.
To reserve tickets online, click here.
Cooper's GoFundMe page can be found here.