San Antonio couple helps families of mass shooting victims after daughter killed in Colorado theater shooting

Jessica Ghawi was a victim of the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater shooting in 2012

SAN ANTONIO – A San Antonio couple who lost their daughter in a mass shooting nearly a decade ago knows the pain that Uvalde families now face in the wake of last week’s school shooting at Robb Elementary, where 19 students and two teachers lost their lives.

Sandy and Lonnie Phillips lost their daughter, Jessica Ghawi, in a mass shooting at an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater in 2012. Since then, they have made it their mission to help other families who lose loved ones in mass shootings.

Ghawi was a 24-year-old aspiring sports reporter when she was killed in 2012.

Sandy Phillips remembers the last time she spoke with her daughter, who was living in Colorado as she started her journalism career.

“She said, ‘Go back to bed, Mom. Get some rest. I need my mama.’ And I wrote back, ‘I need my baby girl,’” Phillips said. “That was our last text. And about 35, 40 minutes later, I got a call from inside the theater from the young man she was with.”

Lonnie Phillips heard his wife’s screams from that phone call.

“That’s when I knew my life would never be the same, and I didn’t have a daughter anymore,” Lonnie said.

The couple chose to turn the pain of losing Jessica into purpose.

They live life on the road in an RV, traveling from one mass shooting to the next with a mission to console and guide families through heartbreak. They offer the families resources through their nonprofit, Survivors Empowered.

The Phillips were in Buffalo, New York, when they heard about the tragedy in Uvalde.

Their work with Survivors Empowered took them to Buffalo after 10 people were killed and three others were hurt in a shooting at a supermarket two weeks ago.

The couple is now spending a week in Uvalde, passing out their “Survivors Toolkit” guidebooks and doing what they can to help victims’ families.

Sandy Phillips said the families will learn to survive and live with their grief.

“You don’t get over it. It morphs. It changes, but you never get over it,” Sandy said.

Their “Survivors Toolkit” through Survivors Empowered offers advice and information on topics such as emotional trauma and how to raise money or handle potential lawsuits.

The toolkit is available for free download by clicking here.

Read more about Uvalde:

About the Authors

Emily Allen is the Executive Producer for the Nightbeat at KSAT 12. She is a San Antonio native with more than a decade of experience in news. She's worked as a producer in Dallas, South Bend, Ind., and most recently, Orlando, Fla. Emily is a proud graduate of Texas Christian University, a diehard Spurs fan and a devotee of Bill Miller iced tea.

Sarah Acosta is a weekend Good Morning San Antonio anchor and a general assignments reporter at KSAT12. She joined the news team in April 2018 as a morning reporter for GMSA and is a native South Texan.

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