CHICAGO — Cooper Roberts, the 8-year-old boy shot and paralyzed during the 4th of July parade massacre in Highland Park, is in constant pain as he makes a slow physical and emotional recovery, his family said.
"It is very hard to convince Cooper that he will be happy again," Cooper's family said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. "Of course, we are beyond grateful for his survival, and we know others weren't as fortunate, but we want people to know his path/our path will be a very long and hard road. He's an eight-year-old boy who feels hopeless, sad and angry as the reality of his life is setting in."
Cooper was released from the University of Chicago's Comer Children's Hospital two weeks ago, and is now recovering at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, where he is undergoing rigorous daily physical and occupational therapy, while learning to manage maneuvering around three tubes coming out of his body, two ports, and a PICC line, according to his family.
"Cooper is in constant pain. It is agonizing to see. He still has internal damage – wounds that are slow to heal. He is on a constant IV drip of antibiotics to ward off infection, has swelling that obscures the full internal picture, and suffers stomach pain as his body relearns to process mainly liquid food. He remains on heavy painkillers from which he is being weaned this week," his family said.
While Cooper has been cleared to begin eating solid food again, his liquid diet through a feeding tube often makes him too full to enjoy even some of his favorite foods, managing only a couple bites before feeling too full and nauseous, according to his family.
He's also only able to see his entire family once a week for a short period of time, due to ongoing COVID-19 safety protocols.
"He desperately misses his twin brother, Luke. He misses his family, his home, his room, his toys, his friends, his dog and his school and everything from – and he's beginning to ask things like, 'What will I do at recess?' though it will be many weeks before he goes back to school," his family said.
Cooper's family has said he will likely spend 6 to 12 weeks in rehab. After that, he will rejoin his twin brother, Luke, in the third grade in Highland Park.
Cooper was shot in the back and the bullet exited through his chest. The bullet "did significant damage throughout his body, including to his aorta, liver, esophagus, and spinal cord," his mother, Keely Roberts, wrote in late July.
She was also shot. She said she suffered bullet wounds to two parts of her leg, and has already had multiple surgical procedures on her foot. The wounds require ongoing orthopedic treatment, she said.
Cooper's brother, Luke, suffered only minor physical injuries – but the emotional trauma has been devastating on its own, Roberts wrote.
Both Cooper and Luke are in private counseling and mental health services. Cooper is suffering from flashbacks that disrupt his sleep and other post-traumatic stress symptoms.
"There are layers upon layers of cruelty with being shot by a sniper," Cooper's family wrote. "Most people don't witness the grueling aftermath of surviving these devastating wounds, physical and emotional. We are constantly encouraging and motivating Cooper, seeking the positives and hanging on to hope, but we want people to know the unvarnished reality which is his/our new world."
Still, his family said "every kindness makes him smile" as he recovers.
"We are so grateful for the gift, cards, prayers and donations that will help carry us all through this very bleak period," his family wrote.
A GoFundMe set up to help Cooper's family pay for his medical expenses has raised more than $1.7 million so far.
Seven people were killed and dozens more were wounded in the July attack. The suspect in the attack has since been charged with more than 100 felony counts, including murder and attempted murder. He pleaded not guilty earlier this month, despite previously admitting to the attack, according to police.