Seven years after her daughter was killed in the Aurora movie theater shooting, Sandy Phillips says she can barely keep up with the nation’s deadly gun violence. And her goal is to help survivors navigate through their sudden and publicized grief.
Phillips has been traveling to the sites of mass shootings along with her husband, Lonnie Phillips, to connect with others who’ve lost loved ones. When gunfire broke out at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita on Thursday, leaving two people dead, the couple had just left California for what she described as the “tragiversary” of the Borderline bar shooting. That massacre left 12 people dead in November last year in Thousand Oaks, California.
Sandy Phillips told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that she travels to such areas to build a network of survivors who can help respond to other survivors during shootings.
“It’s impossible to understand it (the grief) unless you’ve gone through it,” she said. “We know from our own experience that this trauma is a form of PTSD and it stays with you for a lifetime. So early intervention is incredibly important. So we’re actually putting together rapid response teams that would include survivors, trauma therapists, police, first responders … that can offer assistance and survivor support immediately.”
As part of the effort, she encourages survivors and victims of mass shootings to get the therapy they need for what she called a lifetime of healing.
“It changes your DNA,” she said.
The couple has written a book titled, “Tragedy in Aurora: The culture of mass shootings in America” and also started a nonprofit called Survivors Empowered to offer advice and compassion in the wake of mass shootings.
Sandy Phillips said while they’re not trained therapists, it’s all about compassion. And they understand grief after their daughter, Jessica Ghawi, was murdered in a movie theater in Colorado. Ghawi was at an Aurora multiplex to catch a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” when a gunman burst in and started shooting.