Couple who lost daughter in Aurora theater shooting offers hope to others impacted by mass shootings

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EL PASO, Texas — A Colorado couple who lost their daughter in the Aurora theater shooting are traveling the country to help others impacted by mass shootings.

“She was full of life and embracing it,” Sandy Phillips said to FOX31 over the phone from her hotel room in El Paso, Texas.

July 20, 2012 was the night Sandy and Lonnie Phillips’ lives were forever changed.

“Gone just like that. Just gone,” Sandy said.

Their daughter, Jessi, was inside Aurora’s Century 16 movie theater when a lone gunman opened fire.

Sandy exchanged texts with her daughter just minutes before the midnight showing. Then the phone rang. It was Jessi’s friend.

“Why was he calling me? They were in a movie. I answered the phone and I could hear the screaming in the background and that’s when they walked into hell,” Phillips said.

As Sandy and Lonnie tried to process their young daughter’s violent death, they were surrounded by news of more mass shootings across the U.S.

“It was one violent gun shooting after another, after another and then Sandy Hook happened,” Sandy said.

That was enough. The Phillipses said they had to do something. They got on a flight to Newtown, Connecticut without knowing anyone there.

“We walked in and I looked at my husband and I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s the way we looked five months ago.’ Seeing the shock and the devastation and the hopelessness on the faces of those parents. I knew right then, this is what we need to be doing. We need to be helping these people understand what’s ahead of them.”

Since Sandy Hook, the couple has gone to the site of nearly every mass shooting across the country to offer a hug, an ear to listen and a hand to hold.

“There’s an unspoken understanding,” Sandy said.

Now they’ve formed a survival guide to grief. They recently held their first three-day retreat in Massachusetts.

“To bring them into one place and let them see you’re not alone and this person is hurting just as bad as you are,” Sandy said.

Through their journey, they’ve created a network called Survivors Empowered. It’s a place to turn, for those who face the unimaginable.

“We want to see the traumatized survivors be able to have as healthy a life and as joyful a life as possible,” Sandy said.

Sandy and Lonnie are still in El Paso at the scene of a recent mass shooting, while other members of their group are in Dayton offering support to survivors there. Their network is based off of donations. For more information, visit Survivors Empowered’s website.

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