NORTH LOGAN, Utah — For most high school seniors, graduation is a time to celebrate their academic achievements. For Deserae Turner, it’s also an opportunity to celebrate life.
Three years ago, Turner was shot in the head by a friend who left her for dead in a dry canal in Smithfield, Utah. At the time, her family wasn’t even sure she’d live, let alone graduate.
But after 16 surgeries, and years of balancing school work with intense physical therapy, Turner can finally call herself a high school graduate.
“For those who have struggled through pain and trials, they will understand better what it took to endure the injury, pain and surgeries while going through school,” Turner said.
“For those who have never gone through hard things, it’s really hard for them to know how big of an accomplishment this is,” she said. “I want to tell people who are struggling, you are not alone and to keep trying.”
Despite years of chronic pain, Turner managed to graduate on time — one of her biggest goals since the shooting. In October, she was also crowned homecoming queen at Green Canyon High School in North Logan, Utah.
The school held a virtual ceremony for their 2020 graduates due to the coronavirus pandemic. But Turner’s family also organized a drive-by greeting party for her friends and supporters to celebrate from a safe distance.
Turner was 14 years old when she was shot in the head by Colter Peterson in February 2017. He and co-conspirator Jayzon Decker, both 17 at the time, were sentenced to 15 years to life in prison for the shooting.
Peterson lured Turner to a canal, but it was Decker’s idea to attempt to kill her, according to prosecutors. The pair left her for dead, took her money and spent it at a nearby convenience store, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
Turner laid in the canal for eight hours before she was discovered.
Because of the brain injuries she sustained, Turner’s left side is paralyzed, she has limited sight and painful headaches are her new normal.
But nothing could stop her from graduating.
A high school celebration invite shared on Facebook says Turner is “tougher than a bullet.”