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Nearly 10 years after her daughter Jessi was killed in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, Sandy Phillips is visiting yet another mass shooting site. Since her daughter and 11 others were killed in July 2012, Phillips has traveled the country advocating for gun reforms and helping other families of mass shooting victims cope. Amna Nawaz spoke with Phillips near Uvalde's town square.
In 2012, Sandy Phillips daughter, Jessi, was killed in an Aurora, Colorado Movie Theater. Since then, she has traveled the country advocating for gun reform. Last night, Amna Nawaz spoke with Phillips in Uvalde.
What do you tell people, when you arrive here? What are people right now need to hear?
Sandy Phillips, Mother of Aurora Movie Theater Shooting Victim: If it's early on, I always let them know that I've been walking in their shoes for 10 years. And that I know that they don't want to take another breath, that they wish they were dead, instead of their child because I felt that way. I also share with them that if we had had a handgun in the house that night, I probably wouldn't be here because I was so distraught, I didn't want to live. And the next day, when I woke up, it was like, oh, God, I'm still here. I don't want to be here. And then I tell them, we've been here now for 10 years, and you will find joy again, it's not the same joy you thought you'd have. And it's always different that you will find joy again. And you'll always have an empty chair at your table. And the pain that you're feeling right now, will still be there, 10 years from now, it won't be the same, it changes and morphs. But it's always there. It's a part of who you are now, it's part of who your family is now. It's part of who your community is now.
So it's something that you don't get over. And they will lose friends in the process. Because somewhere along the line, someone, well, meaning, will say, you need to get over this and move on. It's impossible, how does one get over the loss of a child? That is your future. And when you lose that future, it's very easy to lose hope. So we let them know that there's an army of other survivors for them around the country, and that there are resources for them. We recommend trauma therapy immediately. The sooner the better. Because we see we have seen the results of people who do get that help early on.
Sandy, it was 10 years ago. You lost her daughter.
Which means the kids who died here weren't born.
The year she died.
What is that? How do you process that?
I don't. I'm still processing. It's kind of in a loop for me right now.
This is number 20. The 20th mass shooting you've responded to. Do you feel you'll ever go numb?
Oh, I — no. I haven't grown numb. I wish I could, you know, although, years ago, I had somebody say, you know, someday, it'll be very easy to tell your story.
Has it gotten easier?
No. And I said the day that it becomes easy for me to tell my story about, Jessi, is the day that I need to leave this and not ever be in it again. Because that means I become numb. And once you become numb, how can you be a caring individual taking care of survivors, you can't be, then you're just a robot and doing the things that you think you should do instead of really showing the compassion that they need to have shown to them.
Sandy, what keeps you going?
Jessi. Jessi was a very caring young lady. From the time she was old enough to toddle through nursery school. She was the one — her teachers would always say, she's the one that goes over to comfort the kid that's crying or goes over and welcomes the new kid. And she was always that way through her entire life. When she moved to Colorado, and somebody would call her and say, you know, I have a friend that's moving to Colorado and she goes, what can I do to help? You know, right before she was killed, there had been horrible wildfires outside of Denver. And she was like, you know, mom, these people are going to have clothing given to them. They're going to get furniture, the Red Cross will give them blankets, you know, all that kind of stuff. But who's going to replace their sports equipment and then give the data footballer to throw with his son and give hot hockey sticks to, you know, some kid that plays hockey. She was a big hockey fan. She was actually wanting to be a journalist in sports and was doing that when she was killed.
So when she was killed, another charities stepped up. And they're still doing the sports drive every year in her honor. So seeing that happen, was just a really beautiful thing. But that's why we do what we do. It's to honor Jessi in the way that she would want us to honor her.
You're here to talk with people and meet with as many people as you can. If you could speak to everyone in this town right now, what would you say? What's your message to them?
Be kind to one another. Be patient with one another. Understand that this is a grief that goes beyond all, surpasses all understanding. And the people that you once knew are no longer those people. So don't try to fix it, just listen, be kind you're holding hands and you're holding broken hearts.
Our thanks to Amna Nawaz and to Sandy Phillips.
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Amna Nawaz joined PBS NewsHour in April 2018 and serves as the program's chief correspondent and primary substitute anchor.
Senior Producer, Field Segments
Sam Lane is reporter/producer in PBS NewsHour's segment unit.
Frank Carlson is a general assignment producer at the PBS NewsHour, where he's been making video since 2010. @frankncarlson
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