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Couple who lost daughter in Aurora, Colorado theater shooting offer support in Uvalde

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Posted at 11:00 AM, May 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-30 07:01:03-04

Sandy and Lonnie Phillips have walked through crowds like those gathered around a memorial in downtown Uvalde before.

They can spot those dealing with pain and understand it in the most personal way.

"Are you OK? Are you sure? Can I hug you?” Sandy Phillips said to a woman who was in tears.

“Our daughter was killed 10 years ago in a mass shooting, so we are here to support the families," She told her.

The Phillipses lost their daughter, Jessi, in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting a decade ago. She was just 24 years old.

Jessi grew up in San Antonio, not far from Uvalde. The Phillipses used to pass through Uvalde to eat at a friend's restaurant on their way to camp. Now, Jessi's parents are helping those impacted by the shooting at Robb Elementary.

"Because of Jessi and her tenacity and the way she lived, we do not want her to be forgotten," Lonnie Phillips says.

The couple started the organization Survivors Empowered.

Uvalde is the 20th mass shooting the Phillipses have traveled to. They have made it their mission to offer support to mass shooting survivors and those who have lost loved ones to this kind of violence.

They arrived in Uvalde, coming straight from Buffalo, N.Y., where they were helping those impacted by the shooting two weeks ago that killed 10 people.

“He (Lonnie) likes to say they’re all the same, they’re all different; this is very true," Sandy says.

The couple gives a survivor's toolkit, a how-to guide for living as a survivor of gun violence, especially mass shootings. The guide has tips on dealing with emotional trauma and navigating social media, publicity, and even what to do if you become the target of conspiracy theories.

Not to mention how loud noises, like a siren that interrupted our interview as we sat not far from a memorial where people mourned, can be a trigger.

“That is so retraumatizing for these new survivors. I wish there was a way of not having to do that," Sandy said.

As some point to mental health or school security as ways to stop the next shooting, the Phillipses want more robust gun control measures like an assault weapons ban and expanded background checks. They want President Joe Biden to create an office in his cabinet that looks specifically at gun violence in America.

After meeting with those in Uvalde, they will head back to Buffalo to continue helping there.

It is emotionally draining work. Lonnie said the truck they drive to tragedies runs on diesel, and recent prices have made it hard to afford, but you don't have to look far for the reason they continue in hopes of stopping the next mass shooting.

"Right there. Right there," Sandy said as she pointed to the pin with Jessi's picture on her chest.