2023 News Release Champions for Change

CNN names Sandy and Lonnie Phillips/Survivors Empowered one of their 2023 Champions for Change

CNN Champions

Denver, CO, September 6, 2023CNN has named Sandy and Lonnie Phillips/Survivors Empowered one of their 2023 Champions for Change. Survivors Empowered was founded by Sandy and Lonnie Phillips after the shooting death of their daughter, Jessi Redfield Ghawi along with 11 other people, in the 2012 Aurora, CO theater shootings. The organization is dedicated to helping gun violence survivors navigate the immediate aftermath of a shooting  and cope with the longer-term trauma.

According to the CNN announcement, “After Jessica Ghawi was killed in a mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado in 2012, her mother and father, Sandy and Lonnie Phillips turned their agonizing pain into purpose. They founded Survivors Empowered to help the families of those killed in mass shootings navigate the aftermath of what have become all too common tragedies. Anchor Anderson Cooper has been following their work for years, and selected them for this year’s Champions for Change.”

Cooper will present the Survivors Empowered story, which will air twice—the first on Monday, Sept. 18 at 8 pm ET; the second on Thursday, Sept. 21 at 11 pm ET. They also will be included as part of a one-hour Champions for Change primetime special on Saturday, Sept. 23 at 8 pm ET.

Blindsided by their daughter’s death, then the legal system 
Sandy Phillips, like so many other Americans, had no idea how easy it is for one person to acquire the guns and ammunition to shoot 70 people, 12 fatally, in just a matter of seconds. After their daughter, Jessi, was gunned down in the 2012 Aurora theater massacre, the couple established Survivors Empowered to help those impacted most by gun violence get the help they need in the immediate aftermath as well as down the road.

The Phillipses filed a lawsuit to hold accountable the arms dealer who sold 4,000 rounds of ammunition to the shooter. Colorado’s gun industry immunity laws prevented their lawsuit from proceeding, and forced the judge to order the Phillipses to pay $203,000 in legal fees to the arms dealer, bankrupting the couple. In 2023, Colorado passed Jessi’s Law, which repeals the state’s gun industry immunity law. The federal immunity law still exists.

“While we’re very honored to be named a ‘Champion for Change,’ we feel the real champions are the survivors who cope with the enormity of their loss,” says Sandy Phillips. “For many, coping starts with taking one breath, and then another, and another as their clocks tick through what seems like an eternity. I can think of no better contribution to honor a person stolen by violence than to champion love and honesty in everything the survivor does and says to others.”

Adds Lonnie Phillips, “Some survivors feel bad because they are not involved in the gun violence prevention movement or because they need to back away from the work for a while. First and foremost, take care of yourself and your family. Sadly, this work will be here if or when you are ready to tackle it.”  Notes Survivors Empowered Executive Director Penny Okamoto, “Our job is to help gun violence survivors through the worst time of their lives. Often before healing begins, survivors struggle to take a breath, fight through the shock and horror, and get through even a few excruciatingly painful minutes at a time. From the earliest minutes of trauma, some survivors completely shut down emotionally; others jump into activism.” 

First breaths to first steps, resources abound 
Survivors Empowered’s resources are far-ranging and life-sustaining—starting with the first moments and days after the tragedy. Three Survivors Empowered resource centers for direct support and education are: Survivors Toolkit co-authored with Gabby Giffords, Trauma Therapy Resources, and Mindfulness Courses. Next year, the organization is launching a Mobile Retreats program.

About Survivors Empowered
Tragically, the 2012 Aurora, CO theater shooting death of Jessi Redfield Ghawi, daughter of Survivors Empowered founders Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, became the catalyst for the organization’s existence. Survivors Empowered has become a nationally prominent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization directly supporting and educating gun violence survivors, including most notably the family and friends of shooting victims, as well as shooting survivors themselves. Resources include: Survivors Toolkit co-authored with Gabby Giffords, Trauma Therapy Resources, and Mindfulness Courses. Mobile therapy retreats are planned for 2024.  As Sandy and Lonnie learned firsthand, surviving family and friends need much help to navigate the new reality they face. CNN and anchor Anderson Cooper are recognizing Sandy and Lonnie Phillips/Survivors Empowered as an uplifting community champion for empowering survivors of gun violence to move forward with their lives. Among other nationally-prominent media, Survivors Empowered has been covered by 60 Minutes, CNN, BBC, AP, and USA Today. Sandy and Lonnie Phillips have co-authored two books, including Forgotten Survivors of Gun Violence: Wounded. For more information, to get help, and to donate or buy books/merchandise visit: www.survivorsempowered.org.

Media Contacts
Penny Okamoto
Executive Director, Survivors Empowered
503-984-4152 cell/text 
[email protected]

Mark Lusky
Mark Lusky Communications
303-621-6136 cell/text
[email protected]




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