October 2020 Newsletter

Welcome from Sandy and Lonnie
Welcome to the inaugural newsletter of Survivors Empowered.  Eight years ago, we were shocked and unmoored by the devastating murder of our daughter in the Aurora, Colorado, mass shooting that so irrevocably changed our lives. Since then, piece by piece, we have been rebuilding, and a key part of our journey, both mental and physical, has been reaching out to other survivors who have needlessly lost loved ones in the growing tally of mass shootings that have occurred since Aurora.  Coronavirus has changed some of what we are now doing, but our mission remains the same: to help families bridge the loneliness, anger, horror and grief of seeing the precious lives of their loved ones ended by gun violence. Until just recently, we’ve been using our RV as both our home and a vehicle for rapidly responding to mass shootings and offering our loving support to any and all who need it. For now, we are temporarily “grounded,” but still involved via writing, speaking and “zooming.”  This newsletter is meant to keep you informed about our travels, whether physical or virtual, what we and others are doing to combat gun violence, and how you and others can call for help, or offer it.  We hope you will subscribe, let us know what you’d like to see next and continue with us as allies.  In loving solidarity, Sandy and Lonnie Phillips 
San Antonio Magazine profiles Sandy Phillips
Here is how writer Katherine Stinson begins her September profile: Sandy Anglin Phillips didn’t have to be told who the victims’ families were when she and her husband, Lonnie, arrived a few days after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. “When we walked into the room where we were meeting some of the families, we saw them walk in and you didn’t have to tell us that they were the families that had lost someone,” she says. “I looked at Lonnie and Lonnie looked at me and we said, ‘Oh my God, that was us five months ago. And I knew then at that moment this was the work we were going to be doing.’” Read the entire article here
A crime scene investigator becomes a fast friend
Maria Pettolina was nervous when she took the stand to testify on national television about her crime scene findings after the massacre in Aurora, Colorado. When she looked into the courtroom, though, she was fortified by a smiling face – Sandy Phillips was sending encouragement, and Maria has never forgotten.   Later, she had the opportunity to talk with Lonnie and Sandy. She remembers her eyes brimming with tears when Sandy said she had done a great job, and that her testimony had made them proud. It was the first time Maria had ever met a victim’s family. They began getting together for meals, leading to what has become a lasting and very special relationship.   In 2012, Maria had only been a CSI for three years, and in Colorado for six months. Now, she’s  Dr. Maria Pettolina, and educates other CSIs about best practices. But the memories are still fresh – in fact, unforgettable. She and Nick Carroll, who worked the scene with her, spent nine days onsite and the balance of the month packaging evidence.   It was a singularly affecting case. She considers her colleagues who worked with her among her best friends today. Of the people who died, Maria says, “It could have been my sister. My niece.” And horrifically, “there was not a single safe place.” Maria has written about the post-traumatic stress that can accompany her work. One of her recent publications: “Even CSIs are Allowed to Have Feelings.”   Maria was so moved by the Phillips that she gave them the medals she received for her work in Aurora, and she has since volunteered steadfastly with Survivors Empowered. “Their hearts were just like noone’s I had ever met,” she said. “They are really special people, super-inspiring.” One of her first questions to them after the trial was over: “How can I help?” Maria has been fundraising and pitching in ever since.   Volunteers – and contributions – are always welcome at Survivors Empowered. As for Dr. Maria Pettolina, no words can fully express the gratitude the Phillips feel for all her efforts and kindnesses.
News Roundup
  • On Oct. 16, the gun violence prevention organization Giffords.org, launched a new national coalition, Gun Owners for Safety, that unites gun collectors, hunters, former police officers, veterans and others who see gun violence prevention as compatible with responsible gun ownership. Read more about the coalition here
  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a package of 15 bills aimed at curbing gun violence on Oct. 11. Among the bills are ones regulating untraceable "ghost guns," banning the sale of semiautomatic centerfire rifles to anyone under 21 and capping the number of weapons that can be sold by individuals without a license. Ari Freilich, state policy director for the Giffords Law Center, called California "the national leader on public safety." 
  • The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence is part of a lawsuit asking a federal court to require that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives regulate the parts used to make untraceable "ghost guns." Joining the lawsuit are California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the fathers of two students killed in a shooting at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita last year. 
  • Recent rallies against gun violence took place in Biloxi, Mississippi; in Montgomery, Alabama; in Portland, Oregon; and in Rochester, New York;
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.    

Our Recent Activities
  • We spoke via Zoom with San Diegans for Gun Violence Prevention, a coalition of groups and individuals that we are a part of and helped create. Coalition building is an important part of what we do, and we encourage working with other boots-on-the-ground organizations to enhance and support the work that needs to be done to prevent gun violence. 
  • We continue to work with Giffords, the national organization founded by Gabrielle Giffords, a gun violence survivor and former congresswoman. 
  • 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.
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. 
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