'A year unlike any other': Highland Park shooting victims continue to deal with grief, anger and pain

From an 8-year-old boy to an 88-year-old grandfather, the July 4 Highland Park parade shooting showed no mercy.

Six months later, the wounded dozens still ache. Loved ones of the seven people killed that day still mourn.

Through pain, grief and anger, they continue to tell their stories in the hope it can help them heal and possibly prevent future shootings.

'It felt like forever'

Liz Turnipseed and her husband, Ian, had been hyping the Highland Park parade for weeks to their 3-year-old daughter, Sonia, who'd spent much of her life in lockdown because of the pandemic.

Their excitement, though, quickly turned to horror on the parade route.

In a moment that "felt like a sonic boom," Liz Turnipseed, 41, was spun around and thrown to the ground as a bullet struck her in the pelvis.

"I wasn't knocked out, but I was on the ground and trying to get up," she said. "And then there was unbearable, sharp, burning pain."

She immediately looked for her daughter but saw only an overturned stroller. It's an image that still haunts her.

Her panic eased when she saw her husband holding Sonia. Unable to walk, and with gunfire still raging, Turnipseed told her husband to leave her behind and get Sonia to safety.

Ian, shielding Sonia, ran through the panicked crowd. He discovered a woman in a nearby park, hiding behind a sign, and asked her to take care of Sonia while he ran back for his wife.

"It felt like forever, but it was only about four minutes," Turnipseed said. "I thought I was going to die there surrounded by bodies."

A sheriff's officer came to Turnipseed's aid and applied pressure to the wound, allowing Ian to return to the park and get contact information for the woman caring for Sonia. The woman and her husband eventually took Sonia to their home while Ian and Liz went to the hospital.

Turnipseed initially stayed in the hospital for two nights, but in the weeks and months that followed she was readmitted multiple times because the wound wasn't healing. It took 10 weeks for the wound to heal enough to be closed.

She still has shrapnel in both legs, walks with a cane and has lingering nerve damage that flares in the cold.

Because of the damage caused by the bullet entering her pelvis, she's been told by doctors she can't carry another baby. She and Ian had Sonia through IVF, and Liz was scheduled to have another frozen embryo transferred on July 12.

Physical therapy is ongoing, as is therapy to deal with the emotional and mental impact of the shooting.

"In the first few months, there were weeks where I was seeing three different doctors," she said. "And that doesn't include the nurses and the PT at home."

Liz Turnipseed, right, was shot in the pelvis while attending the July 4 Highland Park parade with her husband, Ian, left, and daughter Sonia. Courtesy of Liz Turnipseed

Turnipseed said her husband can't stand seeing her in pain. Sonia is still trying to understand "Mommy's boo-boo" and asks about the "glass balls" - the bullets - "the loud noise machine" and "the bad man."

The couple practice age-appropriate honesty to help Sonia through an unimaginable experience.

"You can't live your life completely controlled by fear," Liz Turnipseed said. "I just want to get back to regular stuff. I'm not asking to climb mountains."

'Am I dying?'

Shortly after 10 a.m. when the shooting began, Lauren Bennet, 41, was hit in the hip and then in the back as she dove into nearby bushes.

Almost immediately feeling the pain, Bennett somehow got to her feet and fled the area with her husband, Michael, her two children in attendance, her parents and her in-laws. Her mother and mother-in-law also were shot.

"I felt the shock in my hip," Lauren Bennett said. "I remember thinking, 'Am I dying?'"

Michael drove Lauren to the hospital so quickly that the health care workers still weren't aware of the mass shooting when they arrived.

Lauren spent one night in the hospital but endured months of wound care. Because the wounds needed to drain, they weren't closed right away.

Lauren Bennett was shot twice during the July 4 Highland Park parade but still managed to flee the scene with her husband and two children. Courtesy of Romanucci & Blandi

Her body still isn't at full strength, but Bennett feels good enough to play with her three boys, ages 6, 9 and 12. She won't allow the lingering soreness to come between her and her family.

"I have young, active boys, so I need to be able to ride my bike alongside them to school, and play with them, and run around with them," she said. "I always pay for it that night and the next day, but I can't give that up. I need to be their mom."

Bennett said she still struggles mentally and emotionally as she processes the experience through therapy. As much as she loves the summer, she welcomed fall as a symbolic step forward.

She takes the good days with the bad, knowing with time the good days will become more plentiful.

"Definitely shattered on the inside," she said. "That's going to take a long time, but it's been better. I'm surrounded by amazing family, great friends, good therapy."

Part of what makes her feel better is her advocacy. Last month she testified in front of a state legislative committee in support of House Bill 5855, which would make it illegal to manufacture, sell or purchase certain high-powered weapons in Illinois.

"What's really hard for me is I don't want to be scared anymore," Bennett said. "I don't want my kids to be scared. It's something that's going to take a lot of work and is a much bigger project.

"If I can help make other people safe, other families and other children, I will fight that fight until the end."

Lives 'shattered'

Eight-year-old Cooper Roberts, paralyzed from the waist down, was the youngest victim in the parade shooting.

His story stunned and saddened the nation as people rallied around his recovery and raised more than $2 million for his continuing needs. After six months, though, Cooper still feels the pain and frustration from the tragic turn in his life.

Eight-year-old Cooper Roberts was paralyzed from the waist down after being shot during the July 4 Highland Park parade. Courtesy of the Roberts family

"Certainly, for us, this has been a year unlike any other," said Keely Roberts, Cooper's mother, in a statement. "Our entire lives have been completely shattered, and we are working as best we can to put the pieces back together."

Cooper was at the parade with his twin brother, Luke, his mother and his father, Jason. Keely Roberts required multiple surgeries after being shot in the leg and foot. Luke was hit by shrapnel.

It took more than two months for Cooper to return home from the hospital and rehabilitation facility, and almost another month before he went back to school part time. In between were grueling physical therapy sessions as he learned to adjust to life in a wheelchair.

The entire Roberts family, meanwhile, is trying to cope with the emotional impact of the shooting.

"Some days, leaning into gratefulness feels easy to do," Keely Roberts said. "Other days, when Cooper is hurting so, so very much or when Luke is struggling, it can be very hard to lean into gratefulness."

Cooper, an avid sports fan, has spent much of his time learning to compete in a wheelchair. He particularly enjoys tennis.

Eight-year-old Cooper Roberts, who was paralyzed from the waist down after being shot during the July 4 Highland Park parade, has undergone months of rehabilitation trying to adjust to his new life. Courtesy of the Roberts family

His best friend remains Luke. A surprising source of strength has been their French bulldog puppy, George.

The family is embarking on a project to find or build an adaptive home where Cooper can access every room, a home that can accommodate his physical therapy needs.

Cooper has come a long way in the last six months, but a difficult journey continues.

"Our entire family has a long road of healing and recovery ahead," Keely Roberts said. "But we will face each day with bravery, hope, love and a belief in the best in people."

'Worst day of my life'

Jon Straus believes his 88-year-old father, Stephen, hadn't missed a July 4 parade in Highland Park in the 50 years they'd been in their home.

Because Stephen's wife, Linda, was unable to join him, Stephen attended this one alone.

The morning of the parade, Jon started seeing Facebook posts about a shooting. He called his father, but there was no answer. He called his mother, who hadn't heard from Stephen.

Stephen Straus, second from right, was shot and killed during the July 4 Highland Park parade. Here, he is pictured with his wife, Linda, left, and sons Peter, right, and Jon, second from left. Courtesy of Romanucci & Blandi

Unnerved, Jon began driving from his Chicago home to Highland Park.

Halfway there, he received a call from a doctor at Highland Park Hospital telling him his father had been shot and killed. Also killed in the shooting were Katherine Goldstein, Irina McCarthy, Kevin McCarthy, Jacquelyn Sundheim, Nicolas Toledo-Zargoza and Eduardo Uvaldo.

"It was awful," Jon Straus said. "The worst day of my life. I never imagined this would happen to us, but people should stop imagining it can't happen to them because, unfortunately, that's the world we live in."

Jon and his brother Peter knew the day would come when they'd lose their father. But to have it happen this way was unthinkable.

Stephen Straus still went to work five days a week as a financial adviser. He was spry as an 88-year-old can be, and he was the primary caregiver for his wife.

With their dad gone, Jon and Peter had to pick up the pieces and deal with the mountain of tasks. Grief was often put on hold as the family dealt with the estate, interviews with lawyers, police officers and prosecutors, and so much more.

"It's upended my life, for sure," Jon Straus said. "It's been endless. In addition to dealing with the grief, it's lawyers and assisted-living places."

Helping their mother through the sadness and immense adjustment has been the priority, especially as life without her beloved husband in a memory-filled home became increasingly difficult.

The week of Thanksgiving, Linda moved into an assisted-living facility closer to Jon's home.

"It's a huge step," Jon Straus said. "We got her moved in, but it's still a big adjustment. She needs a lot of support."

Jon said the height of the grief lessened after a couple of months. But now that he and Peter are clearing out their childhood home, emotions get stirred pretty easily.

The pain may ease, but it always will remain.

"I miss him every day," Jon Straus said. "He was just the sweetest man. The grief is something I'll have to deal with the rest of my life."

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