SMITHFIELD, Cache County — “Do what makes you happy.”
And planting tulip bulbs — 1,208 of them — with her mother, April, makes Deserae Turner happy.
“I absolutely love tulips. I think tulips are beautiful,” Deserae, who was shot in the head by a classmate and left for dead nearly three years ago, said while dropping the bulbs in the ground on a fall day. The flowers that will bloom next spring are a perfect metaphor for the pain, heartache and triumph the 17-year-old has gone through.
“I’ve gone through a brain injury. I have scars all over me. That’s me. I’m beautiful. That’s what the tulips and the flowers show.”
It was Feb. 17, 2017, a Thursday afternoon, when Deserae was lured to the canal by classmates Colter D. Peterson and Jayzon Decker.
According to prosecutors, the pair, who were sentenced to at least 15 years in prison, concocted a plan while playing video games and discussing their desire to “get rid” of Deserae, who was messaging Peterson on social media.
The memories of what happened on that February day still haunt her.
The dry canal bed behind a high school in a neighboring town was once a fun place to hang out with friends. But now it has become a darkened place Deserae avoids because “this is where hell happened.”
During a visit to the site, only the second time she’s been back to the scene of the shooting, Deserae remembered Peterson and Decker asking her to help find a ring in the brush.
And suddenly, everything turned ugly.
After being shot, then 14-year-old Deserae lay unconscious in the cold, muddy canal for eight hours before being found.
Deserae spent 63 days in the hospital and has undergone 10 brain surgeries. She has vision loss in her left eye, and her arm and leg were paralyzed.
“Well, technically, my whole left side,” she said. “That included my internal organs, too.”
Yet the teenager, who once told her attackers that she “is tougher than a bullet,” has managed to remain on track to graduate from Green Canyon High School in April, making up two years of work in one year.
“Lots and lots of work,” she said. “Lots of packets, a lot of online school.”
In October, she was even crowned the school’s homecoming queen.
What keeps her motivated, she said, is seeing “that I worked my butt off that much. I can’t just stop. That’s not me. I can’t just stop. I did it. I just kept going.
“Yeah, this is me. I’m loud and I’m proud about it.”
The onetime champion horseback rider’s biggest challenge nowadays is fatigue, and her daily routine is regimented: A half day of school and then nap time, physical therapy workouts, and time spent in a hyperbaric chamber to help with her oxygen and healing.
But dwelling on the past isn’t what she’s about.
The aspiring journalist is now looking to the future and plans to continue to share her story, hoping to help others in their struggles. She’d even like to one day write a book about her experiences.
“I know it’s hard,” she said, adding she’s been “at ground zero, maybe even negative.”
“Find your purpose on this earth, whatever that might be, and stick to it. You’ll enjoy life much more.”