Highland Park, Community

‘Good is stronger than evil’: Survivor Keely Roberts shares feelings, updates on family two years after Highland Park shooting

Compared to two years ago, it is a different world for many — maybe all — of those impacted by the Highland Park shooting. Though a lot is uncertain for Keely Roberts, she knows that to be true.

From then to now, Roberts has counted in days, not years. To the Roberts family, the Fourth of July will mark the 730th day since Keely, her two sons and dozens of others were shot on during a parade in Highland Park.

The Roberts family, with its six children, is not the same as it was 730 days ago.

“The family who walked to the parade that awful day are gone,” said Keely Roberts, who joined media members on Wednesday, July 3, to share her thoughts on the Fourth of July, her disappointment with the alleged shooter’s recent court appearance and the progress of her family, specifically Cooper, now 10, who was paralyzed when he was struck by a bullet that day.

Cooper Roberts was shot in the spinal cord and is paralyzed from the waist down. He endured numerous procedures and months of physical and emotional treatment during a hospital stay and then weeks of residence at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.

Two years later, he continues to conquer his physical and occupational therapy. And though his “choices were stolen from him,” Keely said, Cooper stays positive and optimistic and is constantly looking for ways to stay active.

Formerly a soccer kid, Cooper’s energy has been unleashed on the world of adaptive sports. He enjoys sled hockey and wheelchair basketball, and the family is looking for ways for him to play baseball. Being a teammate is important to Cooper, Keely said.

Cooper Roberts (left) shoots hoops with his twin brother, Luke Roberts.

“He’s doing as well as he could probably be expected to do,” Keely Roberts said. “I am so amazed by his ability to stay positive and stay Cooper. He’s truly the same Cooper.

“That said, let’s be realistic, this is an unbelievably difficult road that he is on.”

Keely Roberts said this year her family will not attend Highland Park’s Fourth of July events — which include a remembrance ceremony, FourthFest and a parade for the first time since 2022. She doesn’t know if she could ever attend a parade again.

Instead, they will go to a lake in Wisconsin and do a “whole lot of being together.”

This time of year was not made any easier for the Roberts family and many others on June 26, when the alleged Highland Park shooter rejected a plea deal that he reportedly had already accepted.

The plea deal would have removed some charges from the filing, but still resulted in life in prison. It also would have eliminated the need for a trial and for survivors and victims’ families to testify. Many of the survivors, including Keely Roberts, were on hand, ready to deliver victim-impact statements and take a step forward. They now won’t be given that right for months — maybe years.

Roberts called the maneuver a “revictimization” of those impacted by the shooting and the “continued destruction of good, caring innocent people — people who have suffered more in a lifetime than anyone should have to.”

And she felt more pain when the alleged shooter appeared in the courtroom in a wheelchair.

“(It) felt like a knife to my heart; it took my breath away … just one more injustice inflicted,” she said.

Roberts explained throughout the call that the pain and trauma she and her family endure is ever-present and likely everlasting.

Through all of it, however, she believes hers is a story of love and it will become one of “a comeback.”

Since the tragedy, support for the Roberts family has come from across the world. A GoFundMe digital fundraiser in the immediate wake of the shooting collected more than $2 million through more than 30,000 donations to support Cooper and his family’s at-home recovery.

A followup fundraiser is still active online with a goal of funding a home that will fit Cooper and the family’s current needs.

“For as damaging and hurtful that this dark evil did to our lives, it is balanced and even overweighed by the goodness and the love,” she said. “I wouldn’t have believed it possible. … The moral of the story for us is going to be that love wins, that good is stronger than evil and I 100 percent know that to be true. … This is a love story, not a horror story; it’s going to be a comeback story.

“I cannot stress enough that we live our life every day feeling blessed. We are victims but that is not the place we are going to stay in and that’s not what we focus on.” 

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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