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California couple a step closer to having gun law named after their daughter killed in mass shooting

The shooting in Nashville has invigorated the conversation about gun control. KPBS reporter Kitty Alvarado has an update with a Southern California woman who has two missions: comforting families of the victims, and trying to stop future violence.

Many are numb after they hear about another mass shooting in America, but that is not the case for Southern Californian Sandy Philips.

"Your heart breaks again," she said.

She knows what families in Nashville will live with, because she knows the pain intimately. Her daughter Jessica Ghawi, a future sports reporter, was killed in a mass shooting inside a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado 10 years ago.


"She was doing extremely well and everybody has told us what a bright future she had," she said. "She went to a movie with her best friend and never came home."

She added that 11 others were killed in that shooting, and 70 were wounded.

"She was shot six times, and having to look at the coroner results and the autopsy results and the crime scene photos — and knowing what she went through the last few seconds of her life — knowing what people who survived their wounds have gone through since," Philips said.

She said the pain is something she and her husband Lonnie are fighting to prevent others from dealing with, so they started "Survivors Empowered" to help heal those affected. They travel around the country in an RV and immediately go help mass shooting survivors.

"Knowing those people, seeing them suffer after every mass shooting, there's at least one suicide, because of what they've witnessed and because of the pain that they endure on a daily basis," Philips said.


Their other mission is to hold the gun industry and lobby accountable through legislation. Because after losing their daughter, the Beaumont couple also lost everything they owned, including their home, when they tried to sue an ammunition dealer.

They wound up having to pay the dealer’s legal fees.

On Sunday they scored a victory, when Colorado lawmakers passed a bill allowing lawsuits like theirs. The bill still has to be signed. But the law will be named after their daughter: Jessica Redfield Ghawi’s Law.

"When they voted on changing the name to Jessie's Law, they all stood when it passed and faced us in the gallery and stood there quietly. You could hear a pin drop for over a minute honoring our girl and our work," she said. "We did it. Jessi will be remembered."

She said their fight continues and their target is the AR-15, the weapon that killed her daughter, and the gun of choice for mass shooters. She said what she heard from families after the shooting in Uvalde haunts her.

"I was so devastated by that shooting and, the fact that the shooter was able to get so close to those children and just annihilate them to the point where they needed DNA to identify them. I know that's hard for the American public to listen to, but they need to listen to it."

She knows this won’t be easy, but she said she has an angel by her side that keeps her going and has from day one.

"I felt Jessie kicking me and saying, 'Get out of bed and fight.' And that's what we did from that moment on. We have been fighting and not fighting for ourselves, because obviously it's too late, but fighting for those who haven't been affected by gun violence yet."

KPBS has created a public safety coverage policy to guide decisions on what stories we prioritize, as well as whose narratives we need to include to tell complete stories that best serve our audiences. This policy was shaped through months of training with the Poynter Institute and feedback from the community. You can read the full policy here.