In February 2017, she was shot in the head and left to die, but while the journey's been hard, she never gave up.
Trigger Warning: This story contains details of gun violence.
A teenage girl looks forward to her homecoming dance because it's an occasion for her to dress up the way she wants to, but Deserae Turner almost didn't get to experience it. When she was just 14, she didn't come home straight from school, like she always did. Her worried parents reported her missing, and she was found, eight hours later, in the middle of the night. On February 17, 2017, she was shot in the back of her head and left to die in a canal in Smithfield, Utah, reports Fox13. She was reportedly lured by her friend, Colter Peterson, and co-conspirator Jayzon Decker, both 17 at the time, to the isolated area, reports CNN.
Peterson, who shot her, and Decker, were sentenced to 15 years to life, as a result. She's been in recovery ever since. She's had over 10 brain surgeries and has been attending intense physical therapy sessions to learn how to move the left side of her body as the bullet had punctured her right lobe. "My first memory is my dad coming and holding me when I woke up in a mysterious place. He said, 'Des I want you to know that you're safe but you've been shot and you're in the hospital.' My big question was who. Who would do this? And I finally found out later down the road and it was kind of a shock to me. I was like wow, I thought we were friends," said Turner.
Since that horrible day, Turner has never given up on her fight, and she's inspired several people along the way. Even though she missed a lot of classes, she was determined to make it till the very end, and to add to another one of her achievements, she was crowned homecoming queen in October 2019, reports Fox13. “'I was just a homecoming queen, there’s nothing special about that,'" Deserae said she sometimes thinks to herself. "But if you think about what I’ve been through, yes — it’s very special. It is very awesome." When she found out that she was going to be crowned homecoming queen, she really couldn't contain her excitement, though she wanted to keep it a secret from her family.
“I was bouncing around, and I was like, 'I am going to be in the homecoming parade!'” she recalled telling her sisters before sharing the big news. Soon enough, she was worried about her clothes and her hair, like any teenage girl would. "'Oh my gosh, I need a dress, I need someone to do my hair, I need someone to do my makeup,'” she said. Turner's mom took to Facebook to share the news and offers and donations started pouring in. “When people were volunteering, it was happy tears," April said. "And again when people were cheering for her, it was happy tears again." It was so overwhelming for them.
“It just gives you that comfort and love that, yes, I am truly loved," Turner said. "Everybody needs to know that feeling." It surely was a night she will never forget, and just like a fairytale, she even lost her shoe. “The homecoming king got down and put my shoe on and I totally felt like Cinderella. It was a beautiful moment,” she said. Turner then said that she faced both Peterson and Decker in court, but she was surprised to see that both their reactions were the exact opposite. "What's really helped my heart is knowing that well Colter was sad for his mistakes," said Turner. The shooter, Colter Peterson, cried in court.
However, Decker didn't even make eye-contact with her. “Didn't even look at me. He had no empathy and I didn't care. It was like, 'screw you' kind of thing,” said Turner. She adds that the only regret she has is not telling her parents where she was going, They would've found her sooner if she told them. “Maybe this wouldn't have happened. They would've found me faster. I would be better off,” said Turner. The whole family is doing their best to function as normally as possible. “We take one day at a time and it's a new adventure every single day,” said Deserae’s father, Matt Turner.