Deserae Turner had survived against all odds – the 14-year-old had been shot in the head and left to die in a deserted canal. But Turner lived, and she had a message for the teens who attacked her.
Before her ordeal began, Turner had seemingly led the life of a typical young teenager. The Utah native loved to ride horses, practice karate and play tunes on her saxophone. And like most other kids her age, she also regularly used social media to chat with her friends.
Shockingly, though, it was her affinity for Snapchat that had made her a target for violence. Turner regularly sent her friend Colter Peterson messages through the social media app. Her persistent contact got on Peterson’s nerves, however.
Peterson complained to his friend, 17-year-old Jayzon Decker, about Turner’s messages and made a flippant comment about murdering her because of them. According to a sheriff’s deputy’s testimony quoted by The Salt Lake Tribune, Decker replied, “It would be pretty easy to get rid of her.”
While playing video games, the two boys planned the way in which they would attack Turner. They initially intended to slit the 14-year-old’s throat, but Peterson backed out of it. The boys then decided to convince her to meet them in a deserted canal bed 90 miles north of Salt Lake City.
The boys coaxed her to the spot under the pretense that she would be buying a knife from them. In fact, they planned to murder her with the weapon before stealing any valuables that she had on her person. However, Peterson brought along a .22-caliber revolver on the fateful day in February 2017 and ended up shooting her in the head as she walked away from him.
After their subsequent arrest, the boys initially told police officers that greed had been their primary motivation. They’d taken money from the victim’s purse and trashed the rest of her belongings, including an iPod and a cellphone. Eventually, though, the real reason for the crime came to light, shocking an entire community.
James Swink, the Utah attorney prosecuting the case, told People, “There’s some really raw feelings that people have towards the defendants in this case. [It] was unnecessary violence, and it was just an act of meanness with really no reason for it other than these boys were bothered by her.”
The boys’ irritation and the violence that resulted from it would leave Turner close to death. After she was discovered hours later, Turner was taken to hospital due to the head wound that had been caused by the gunshot. Doctors subsequently put her in a medically induced coma as they treated her.
But, somehow, Turner was able to make a miraculous recovery. She left the hospital in April of 2017, in fact, just two months after she had been shot. That day, Turner even attended a press conference in a t-shirt emblazoned with the word “happy.” “It says happy, and I’m happy to go home,” she told CBS.
Of course, Turner’s ordeal was far from over. In addition to the physical damage caused to her by the attack, she faced the mental strain of knowing that both of her attackers would go on trial for aggravated attempted murder. Peterson, who pulled the trigger, also faced a second-degree robbery charge, while Decker had to answer to an accusation of felony obstruction of justice.
Both of the 17-year-olds were tried as adults, and both eventually pleaded guilty to their crimes. In early 2018 Peterson received a sentence of at least 15 years in jail. And a week later, Decker was given the same prison term.
The ruling could keep both of them in prison for the rest of their lives, in fact. And prosecutor Swink had apparently hoped for such an outcome from the beginning of the case. “This wasn’t the only time [Peterson] made threats like this to a girl,” Swink told People. “[This case] shows how much of a danger he is to others.”
But the sentencing hearings didn’t start and end with the handing down of punishments. The court also gave those affected by Peterson and Decker’s crimes a chance to speak. And, bravely, Turner watched as both of her attackers learned their fates.
It was at Peterson’s hearing that Turner was able to share her feelings with the court, and she muttered six words that showed the extent of her resilience. “I am tougher than a bullet,” she said to the criminal whom she had once considered a friend, according to the Daily Mail.
“I hate you,” she added, The Salt Lake Tribune reported, as Peterson cried from his seat at the defense table. “I hate what you did to me, I hate that I trusted you. Your life will be confined to a small room, and my life will also be confined.”
Even though Turner had survived the shooting, she would likely never be the same again. Doctors couldn’t remove the bullet from her brain, which left the teen with excruciating headaches, reduced vision and a left arm that no longer functions. She had difficulty dressing herself and had trouble walking, too.
Turner’s father Matt reiterated the fact that, despite surviving her ordeal, her life would be forever changed. “Our daughter continues to struggle,” he told People. “She works every day to gain as much quality of life as she can. But it will never be the same.”
For that reason, Turner made a similarly emotional statement at Decker’s hearing. “You are evil,” she said, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. “I wish this had never happened. Good luck having a life in prison and remember that, because of you, my life is a prison, too.”
Decker did offer an apology to Turner at her hearing, according to the Deseret News. “I’m sorry about the things I have done and for the pain I have caused,” he said. But her attorney hoped that, with his and Peterson’s sentences, Turner could begin to move on. “Her healing is our primary concern,” Swink told People.