March - 2021 Newsletter

Feeling Pain from Head to Toe

Once again, many families are feeling the shattering pain of having a loved one slain by a gunman armed with an assault weapon. The killings reignite the never-far-away memories of our own tragedy and fuel our efforts to lend support to the new survivors.  It’s not just pain we’re feeling. While we strive to share comfort and want to transcend negative emotions, we’d be lying if we denied that we feel anger, particularly when tragedy is met with outrageous words and behavior. Recently, Texas Sen.Ted Cruz called efforts to pass gun safety measures “ridiculous theater.” To us, the word "theater" conjures up a theater in Aurora, Colorado, where our 24-year-old daughter Jessi and 11 other people were slaughtered by a mass murderer wielding an AR-15.  Trying to protect others from the devastating impact of such carnage is not "theater" in our minds – it's the right response to tragedy. We’re being slaughtered. As Golden State Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr said in response to the Atlanta killings that left eight dead, there’s no freedom in being afraid for one’s life because of an uncontrolled gun culture. That’s a false god. Through Survivors Empowered, we are collaborating with Colorado therapists in direct support of new victims, including first responders, family, community members and crime scene investigators. We welcome any and all help you can give, either with your work or financial assistance. It breaks our hearts, but it also has given us purpose since Jessi's death to support others facing the very worst thing any parent could ever endure, and we are being encouraged to ramp up our efforts. We joined with other survivors and violence-prevention groups in a virtual press conference on March 26 to demand that President Joe Biden meet with us and work with us and Congress to enact meaningful gun reform. We have been on air frequently in recent weeks, and we are always at the ready. There's an awful resonance when we see the mountain state once again the site of sudden violent death – avoidable death. A week before, Georgia was left reeling. Learn more in this issue about some of our partners, such as our new friend Phillip Horner from Boulder. See, too, links to coverage about what’s been transpiring around the country, and read what people are saying. We have also linked to several interviews of us. Let there be an end to this madness. Yours in solidarity, Sandy and Lonnie

Building a Resource That May Be Needed Again

The Boulder, Colorado, community sprang into action to bring free group counseling to people whose peace was shattered by the mass shooting at the King Soopers grocery store. But Phillip Horner, a local psychotherapist who spearheaded the effort with key partners, says they were nevertheless unprepared for the overwhelming scale of the tragedy. After just a few days and massive organizing, however, an infrastructure is in place to help a wide array of traumatized people now and for the foreseeable future.    Horner, founder and co-director of Whole Connection, is a licensed clinical social worker and certified group psychotherapist. As the horrific events of March 22 unfolded, he watched Sandy Phillips being interviewed by CNN’s Anderson Cooper and quickly realized he needed to reach out to Survivors Empowered. “Having someone like Sandy, who has been through the same experience, can only enhance our ability to support people and help us know what to expect and predict,” Horner said. “It’s very much in her wheelhouse. It takes a ton to organize this, and people like Sandy have been doing this for a long time.” Read more here

Each Tuesday at 4 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, until May 4, group sessions will be held for anyone affected by the King Soopers grocery store shooting. For more information, follow this link: wholeconnection.org/emergency-support-group  
Jessi's Professor Touched Again By Tragedy

Eight years ago, Ellen Mahoney, a journalism professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver, sent this note to her students after Jessi Ghawi, one of their classmates and the daughter of Survivors Empowered founders Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, had her life taken in the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado. At the time, Jessi was fulfilling her dream of being a sportscaster.    Dear Students   I am sure you are aware by now of the tragic loss of Jessica in the Aurora shooting. I feel very sad about this and am reminded of Jessica’s enthusiasm for her work and her bright and shining smile. I’ll also never forget her joy at our field trip to Channel 7 where she seemed very happy and eager for her future.   I’m also thinking about all of you and hoping you are doing well and having success in your work and with school.   Write me if you’d like to talk. In the meantime I wish you all the very best.   Now, we at Survivors Empowered stand with the professor, who is mourning again. Her husband, Kevin Mahoney, was among the 10 people killed during the tragic shooting inside a King Soopers supermarket in Boulder, Colorado, on March 22. We give her our sincerest sympathies and our undying support. 

‘It Doesn’t Feel Like There’s Anywhere Safe’

The past is always present for survivors of gun violence.   In countless interviews, survivors from previous mass shootings expressed on television and newspaper stories how the King Soopers tragedy in Boulder, Colorado, on March 22 revived their own trauma, and their anger that assault weapons bans, expanded background checks and other common-sense reforms continue to be doomed by politics. Six days before the Boulder shooting, which took the lives of 10 people, a shooting spree in Atlanta left eight people dead, including six Asian Americans.   Dion Green, whose father, Derrick, died in his arms during a shooting in the Oregon District of Dayton, Ohio, on Aug. 4, 2019. WKRC in Cincinnati on March 23. "It takes me right back to the scene. These last couple days have just been hell.” Manuel Oliver, whose son Joaquin was killed in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, 2018. NBC in Miami on March 23. "My son is dead, but I’m not. So now you’re dealing with me and a lot of parents like me. I’m not waiting anymore. This is it. This is war.”   Frank DeAngelis, who was the principal of Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado, during the shooting at the school on April 20, 1999. Colorado Public Radio on March 24. “People feel all of a sudden, ‘Geez, you know, this is the best I've felt in a while.’ And then an event happens ... they're re-traumatized and triggers are set. And I can't tell you the number of former Columbine staff that reached out to me today to check in or to say, ‘Boy, I don't know how you're feeling, but it took him back to that time.”   Arizona Rep. Daniel Hernandez, who was an intern for former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords when she and 18 others were shot in Tucson on Jan. 8, 2011. KOLD 13 News on March 23. “I’m personally affected by this because I had to hold my boss’s head after she got shot. … We need people to not have to wait until they directly experience this to realize this is a problem.”   Colorado Rep. Tom Sullivan, whose son was one of 12 people killed in the shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, on July 20, 2012. CBS This Morning on March 24 “One of the things that I try to remember to let them know is right now you need the people that you trust, the people that you love. That’s who needs to be around you. That’s who you need to reach out to. There are good-intentioned people around, but when the cameras leave and the lights are dimmed again, it’s just going to be you and them again.”   “I would just tell those people, hang onto the voice — if you’ve got any text messages, you’ve got any phone messages they left — because that’s the first thing you lose.”   Ryan Borowski, who escaped the King Soopers supermarket when a gunman began shooting inside. CNN on March 22. "Boulder feels like a bubble, and the bubble burst, and that's heartbreaking to think that people died today. It doesn’t feel like there’s anywhere safe anymore, sometimes.”  

Sandy Phillips Discusses Colorado Mass Shootings on Denver News Station
Sandy Phillips was among the people interviewed by Denver 7 News for a segment on Colorado's history with mass shootings, which have totaled seven since 1993. See the video here
In the News

In addition to appearing on CNN's "New Day," Survivors Empowered was interviewed for the following news stories:  https://www.cnn.com/2021/03/23/us/shooting-survivors-group/index.html https://krdo.com/news/2021/03/26/non-profit-provides-trauma-therapists-to-survivors-and-those-affected-by-gun-violence/ https://denver.cbslocal.com/2021/03/26/boulder-shooting-sandy-phillips-jessica-ghawi-survivors-empowered/ https://www.oxygen.com/crime-news/boulder-shooting-sandy-phillips-mother-of-mass-shooting-victim-ready-to-help https://www.kens5.com/article/news/national/texas-mother-helps-shooting-survivors/273-6f5c9b56-a3a0-4b13-89b6-4e4f49634671 https://kfgo.com/2021/03/25/still-a-mess-trauma-haunts-u-s-mass-shooting-survivors-due-to-gaps-in-mental-healthcare/ https://kelo.com/2021/03/24/in-colorado-trauma-from-mass-shootings-lingers-for-generations/ https://www.kunc.org/show/kuncs-colorado-edition/2021-03-23/colorado-edition-coping-in-the-aftermath The Associated Press outlines in an article how mass shooters use existing gun laws and loopholes to purchase their weapons.  The New York Times highlights new research into gun violence after Congress voted in 2019 to lift a ban that had prevented the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health from funding such studies.  Hundreds of people signed up to testify at a virtual hearing on 18 gun-control bills proposed in the Rhode Island Legislature.  Nick Penzenstadler of USA Today talked with NPR's All Things Considered about gun-control legislation at the state level over the last decade.  Tennessee approve legislation on March 18 allowing people 21 and over to carry open and concealed handguns without a permit, a step being taken by other Republican-led states. 

Published in October 2019, Tragedy in Aurora: The Culture of Mass Shootings in America, is Tom Diaz's account of the death of Lonnie and Sandy Phillips' daughter, Jessi, and the political polarization and stagnation behind the country's failure to enact common-sense policies to stem gun violence. 

The book can be found on Amazon here.    

Help For Survivors
  • Survivors Empowered has a roster of dedicated trauma therapists who help survivors of gun violence heal from the aftermath. Visit our website for more information. 
  • We continue to look for volunteers across the country who want to help build coalitions and work with survivors of gun violence in their states. If interested in supporting our efforts, please contact us here.

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