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5 Questions for Sandy Phillips

It’s been ten years since you lost your daughter Jesse in the Aurora Theater Shooting.  How has this changed you?

I’m a completely different human being. My values are different. What I do for a living is different. The things I enjoy are different. It’s changed my husband’s and my relationship for the better and it’s changed our complete lifestyle. So everything that I was before ended that night, and I had to, we my husband and I had to redefine who we were going to be. And we’ve done that by getting involved with this issue and with survivors of gun violence throughout the country.

You have become a fierce advocate for gun control.  How are we doing?

It’s one step forward, and 18 back. The Bruen decision by the Supreme Court is really going to affect gun laws in this country.  It was the decision that the state Supreme Court made on the 100 year old law in New York about concealed carry, and then said that that can’t stand anymore and that’s going to affect every state in the in the union. It gets back to why it’s so important that we have national laws that take away the need to have consistency state to state to state it would just automatically be consistent, because it would be a national law, a federal law versus state law. So we’re hoping to get to that point on major issues like expanded background checks and an assault weapons ban and probably magazine limits.  But we also have to be looking at what we’re doing in the United States with proliferation of guns overseas.  And in the meantime, the sale of weapons of war and other weapons and ammo have just skyrocketed everywhere in the world.

Progress can be slow.  What keeps you from getting discouraged and giving up? 

Oh, I get discouraged all the time. Every time there’s another mass shooting. I get discouraged but I go into work mode with what the families are going to need and what we can do to help them and we developed a survivor’s toolkit with the Giffords organization that’s on our website and it’s free to anyone and they can print it out they can just read it whatever they need. It’s on there. And it really helps to help them realize what has happened to them and what they need to be prepared for and what steps they can take to begin to define their new future and we also have developed a mindfulness class to treat the symptoms of PTSD and turn PTSD into post traumatic growth. And we develop that program with the University of California, San Diego and we’re beginning our third. I think this is our third class in August. So people from all over the country can sign up and go through the course, free of charge.

What do you say to other parents to help them find purpose in dark times?

It’s all it all depends on when we first meet them. If it’s early, early on, we just sit there and let them talk to us about their loved one that was killed. We hold their hands, we listen. And then we let them know that when Jesse was killed, I wanted to die. And quite frankly, if we had had a handgun in the home, I might not be here today, but here I am. Here we are. My husband and I. Ten years later with a stronger marriage than we ever had ever had. And we find joy, not the same kind of joy we would have had had Jessie’s lived, but we have found joy and we do enjoy our life and we really enjoy our work. Not enjoy in the way that oh, this is a fun job that we enjoy seeing people heal. And that’s kind of the wrong word. We enjoy seeing people move forward, you move forward, you don’t move on. The loss that they are carrying will be with them forever. They will carry it forever. 10 years later, I’m still grieving over Jessie and I’ll still go dark on the 20th and go inside myself and probably cry a lot because I still and always will miss her presence. But the work we do and seeing other people grow and develop and do such wonderful things. That that that makes us happy.

What do you enjoy doing when your travels bring you back to Denver?  

Well, first of all we like to get together with our fellow survivors. There are so many here in Denver and we’ve developed really deep relationships with so many of them. So we always like to do that. We always like to get together with friends that we’ve met along the way here and have lunches and dinners and that kind of thing or even a happy hour because, you know, we just look forward to revisiting with the people that we met along the way over the last 10 years. So that always brings me joy.

Written by

Vicky Collins is a freelance television producer and journalist based in Denver, Colorado with a diverse portfolio of projects that include network news, cable programming, Olympic sports, corporate and non-profit videos. Some of her most satisfying assignments have been covering disasters, working in the slums of developing countries and telling stories of people who show great courage in the face of adversity. She has been in all 50 states and on six continents and many of her television stories and photos are posted on her website at To contact Vicky Collins directly email or tweet @vickycollins.

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