My Daughter Was Murdered In Aurora — Here's What I Have To Say To Donald Trump

Photo: Brennan Linsley/ AP Photo.
Sandy and Lonnie Phillips' daughter, Jessi, was killed in the 2012 mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, CO.
On July 20, 2012, Sandy Anglin Phillips' 24-year-old daughter, Jessi, was murdered along with 11 other people in an Aurora, CO, movie theater. Phillips and her husband decided to dedicate the rest of their lives to making sure other families never had to suffer the same fate. The couple quit their jobs, rented out their home, and began living out of a camper van, traveling the country and speaking out. This is Phillips' story as told to Refinery29's Kaelyn Forde. It contains details that some readers may find disturbing.

Jessi was in her last year of study and wanted to be a sports journalist. She was feisty; she was pretty; she was an excellent writer. She had a charm and an enthusiasm about her that people were very, very drawn to. She was extremely funny and witty, and a lot of fun to be around.

Even as a baby, she collected people. They gravitated to her. She was the peacekeeper; she wanted everyone to be happy; and she had a very compassionate heart. That's who my daughter was. Jessi was also my biggest fan, and I was hers. She would tell her friends that I was her best friend. I miss that more than words could ever say.

Nobody wants to walk in these shoes. You do not want what happened to me to happen to you.

The shooting happened on July 20, 2012. During that week, Jessi was getting ready for school to start again. She had two friends who were there visiting her. One of them was Brent, her best guy friend. On Thursday afternoon, she found out about the Batman midnight premiere, and she immediately got online to get tickets because Brent was a huge Batman fan. The tickets were sold out, but my daughter was also very tenacious, and she just kept trying and trying. Finally, she got tickets to the 12:05 showing, which is what put them into theater nine instead of theater eight.

They went to the movie that night. We all know what happened. But what most people don't really know is that the killer was able to buy over 4,000 rounds of military-grade ammo, his vest, his protective gear, and his teargas on the internet with the click of a mouse. With no ID requirement, without any background checks.
Photo: Courtesy of Sandy Phillips.
Jessica Ghawi was an aspiring sports journalist when she was murdered along with 11 other people at an Aurora, CO, movie theater.
He came in through the exit door and opened fire. He killed 12, one of them being my daughter. She and Brent got up immediately to try to get out, but she was struck and fell. Brent, of course, did not leave her. She was shot a total of six times. The first shot was in the leg, in one leg and through the other, and she couldn't escape. Then she was shot three times in the abdomen, and once in the shoulder. The "kill shot," for lack of a better term, was in her left orbital. It blew her brains out and left a 5-inch hole in her face.

Brent was also shot during that time. He realized Jessi had stopped screaming, and he saw what had happened to her. He's a paramedic, and so he knew that she was gone. There was no way that she could survive her wound. By that time, the shooting had stopped. He called me. Brent said, "There's been a shooting, a random shooting." I asked him if he was okay, and he said he had been shot. At that point, I started to panic because I realized he was calling me and not Jessi.

Jessi was also my biggest fan, and I was hers. She would tell her friends that I was her best friend. I miss that more than words could ever say.

I asked if Jessi was okay, and he said: "I'm sorry." I said, "Oh please, Brent, is she okay? Tell me she's not dead." And he said again, "I'm sorry, I tried." At that point, I started screaming. I woke my husband up. He came out as I was sliding down the wall and grabbed me. I told him that Jessi was dead.

The next morning, nobody had started showing up at the house yet. It was 5 in the morning, daybreak was just happening, and there was a very soft light coming in through the living room. I was curled up on the couch, and Lonnie, my husband, was standing at the door looking out and remembering Jessi at the patio table with her boyfriend just a few weeks before. In that moment, I spoke up and said: "You know we are going to get involved in this, right?" And he knew exactly what I meant. And he said, "I know." And we did.
Photo: Courtesy of Sandy Phillips.
Since their daughter's death, Sandy and Lonnie Phillips have quit their jobs, sold their home, and devoted their lives to activism.
Newtown happened five months later. I broke into tears — I was as hysterical as I had been on the night Jessi was murdered. I just couldn't believe we as a society had allowed this to happen again, and to children. We went to New York, and from there, we went to D.C. with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, then back to Connecticut. That was when we went from part-time activists pushing for this to full-time.

We have been doing this ever since. We live on very little. We live out of our camper. We fortunately have good friends across the nation, and sometimes, we are able to leave the camper behind and stay with them. But this is our life. We're nomads for gun sense.

I was watching CNN on Friday when Donald Trump said that Hillary Clinton's Secret Service detail should "drop all weapons" and "see what happens to her." I felt such fear for Hillary Clinton. I also felt fear for our country, because what he was saying was, first of all, so misogynistic. It was also hateful and inciteful.

My message for Donald Trump is, first of all, to shut up. Quit using hate speech and study the issues. We are the number-one developed country in the world when it comes to gun deaths.

It emboldens this mentality of, If I've got a gun, I'm in charge. That's not the message we should be sending to some of these people who are not well. They want someone to tell them, It's okay to shoot somebody. If you don't like them, you can shoot them. And that's exactly what Trump is saying, I don't like your politics, and I don't like you as a person, so I can encourage other people to use violence to "take care of" you. It's a bully mentality, and it's a dangerous mentality. It's like he's put a hit out on her.

My message for Donald Trump is, first of all, to shut up. Quit using hate speech, and study the issues. We are the number-one developed country in the world when it comes to gun deaths. If it were happening anywhere else, we would say it was a civil war. Maybe that's what Trump wants, I don't know. I can't get inside this guy's head for the life of me. But what he is saying and doing is dangerous.

Nobody wants to walk in these shoes. You do not want what happened to me to happen to you. But it's happening at a rate of 91 people per day. We are drowning in guns. There are so many that you don't know when it's going to be your turn. I'm doing all I can to make sure it doesn't happen to you. Can Donald Trump say the same?

Sandy Anglin Phillips is the founder of the Jessi's Message foundation and a gun reform advocate. The views expressed here are her own and have been edited for length and clarity.

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