In 2012, Sandy Phillips’ daughter, Jessica Ghawi, was one of the 12 people killed during the Aurora, Colorado mass shooting that took place at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises. Phillips appeared on stage last week at Tina Brown Live Media’s American Justice Summit to discuss her fight for gun reform in founding Jessi’s Message, an organization named after her late 24-year-old daughter. “When you lose 72 people in a weekend in Chicago, that’s not acceptable as America,” she said, on a panel titled Gun Madness: New Thoughts, Real Solutions. “It doesn’t matter if they’re gang-related, or if they’re innocent, standing on a corner or sitting on their front porch – they’re getting slaughtered, and that’s not okay,” she said.
Phillips shared how she learned in a phone call that her daughter had been fatally shot in a movie theater. “From what my husband tells me, I started screaming and from that instant our world spiraled out of control,” she recalled. “And we knew, literally almost instantly, that we were going to be involved in this issue because I couldn’t understand how this could happen again and again and again in America and there hadn’t been any stop-gaps made.”
Phillips spoke with Women in the World in August, explaining how it took three years for her to gather the strength to view Jessi’s autopsy report: “I knew, of course, about the six gunshot wounds that killed her, about the armor-piercing bullet that slammed into her head. But I did not know the details. I felt it was time to know.”
Eerily, a month before Jessi was gunned down, she had just missed being caught in another mass shooting, at a mall in Toronto. “I was working in the garden that day when she called,” Phillips told Women in the World last year. “I reassured her, telling her, ‘You have seen the worst of humanity today. You will never see it again.’ I said all the things a mother should say to make her daughter feel safe. I can see now that I should have told her, ‘We need to be worried. We need to get involved.’
“And that is my message to everyone today. Get involved. Get involved in the fight against gun violence now. Get involved before you lose someone you love.”
Phillips also spoke candidly last week about an incident that occurred years before the shooting in Aurora and why it ultimately caused her a great deal of guilt.