Survivors Speak!                                             April 2023

Breaking Through

For us, critical mass for action on gun carnage came long ago. But perhaps, just perhaps, this moment in time is spurring enough recognition among enough people of all stripes to make a difference. 

It’s not as if the random shooting of innocents is anything new. But the middle of April brought something that seems to have created a special level of community disgust — when ringing a doorbell, turning a car around in the wrong driveway, playing on one’s own front lawn or mistakenly entering the wrong car, was enough to trigger gunfire and grievous injury or death. Finally, there was a growing sense that weapons and paranoia had truly run amok.

Will we see real progress in beating back the uniquely American scourge of death and damage caused by fetishizing weapons at the expense of ever-more young and old alike? Will popular outrage trump vested and moneyed interests in the gun lobby? We will do everything we can to make it so.

There is positive action afoot across the country — though opposing forces are agonizingly strong.

The Tennessee statehouse erupted after the sickening gun violence that claimed the lives of three children and three adults at a church school. The protests, and clamor for change, resulted in three legislators being censured, and two removed. But they were reinstated by their constituents within a week. 

In Kentucky, Governor Andy Beshear was personally touched by gun violence when friends were killed at a bank shooting in Louisville. The suicidal perpetrator left a note, saying he wanted to show how easy it was to get a gun. It is an appalling, tragic fact that he took five others out with him to underline his point. We have been making the same point for more than a decade.

On a positive and personal front, in Colorado we were very moved and heartened to see our daughter honored when Governor Jared Polis signed the Jessi Redfield Ghawi Act (see more below). 

We will always grieve that her name could not be associated with the kind of ground-breaking sports reporting she hoped to provide, or books, or even the day-to-day satisfactions of a life well-lived. But we do what we do in honor of her memory. 

During the height of April, we were interviewed by Anderson Cooper and other outlets. The rest of the month has been busy from start to finish, and we’re fundraising to launch our mindfulness meditation programs for survivors in Mexico. If you can, please help!

In May, we’ll be celebrating Giffords’ 10-year anniversary. We couldn’t be happier to be in the orbit of such an inspiring and wonderful human being as Gabby Giffords, and involved with the organization she founded. 

In this issue, we interview a schoolteacher-hero, Gary Bowden, who 25 years ago ran toward danger at Thurston High School in Oregon. The trauma will always be with him, but he continued to give love and guidance to students for years after the shooting, which changed his life forever. 

No one provided Bowden with a roadmap for how to cope back then. A bit over a year ago, we decided to assemble resources that would be immediately available after a shooting to deal with the aftereffects. We urge any of you suffering from the impact of gun violence to consult our survivors’ toolkit, produced in tandem with Giffords. In next month's newsletter, we will begin highlighting sections. 

We are thrilled to be spending a week at the Garrison Institute this June. Our meditation practice and workshops are bringing us there, and we can’t wait to spend the early part of June in dialogue with some of the best minds and spirits working to heal the world.

On another note, our new collaboration, The Forgotten Survivors of Gun Violence: Wounded, will be available in a few short weeks! It documents the lasting impact of gun violence on those who survive, but continue to bear the scars. 

We wish you all peace, and we fervently wish for progress as we work for it. 

In solidarity,

Sandy and Lonnie

Colorado Governor Signs Jessi's Law and Other Bills

Sandy and Lonnie Phillips with Colorado Governor Jared Polis to witness the signing of the Jessica Redfield Ghawi Act, which repeals Colorado’s immunity protections for the firearm industry. Photo by David Winkler

In a press release to mark the signing of Jessi's Law, Sandy observed: “People in Colorado will be able to have some justice — and we are deeply touched to have Jessi’s name associated with this advance.”

Lonnie added, “Now lawsuits against the gun industry in Colorado will stop some of the terrible practices that have allowed firearm dealers to sell guns and ammo to killers and get away with it. We thank Governor Polis, Senator Sonya Jaquez Lewis, Senator Tom Sullivan, Senator Rhonda Fields, Representative Javier Mabrey, Representative Jennifer Parenti, and the Colorado legislators who drove this bill forward, and recognize as well as the tireless efforts of the Giffords organization, Colorado Ceasefire, and Moms Demand Colorado.”

Colorado Senate Bill 168 allows a person or entity that has been harmed as a result of a violation of standards by a firearm manufacturer, retail seller, wholesale seller,  importer, marketer, or distributor to bring a lawsuit under the Colorado Consumer Protection Act.

It was among four gun safety bills signed by Governor Polis on Friday, including, in addition to removing liability immunity as per Jessi's Law,  measures that: limit gun purchases to those 21 and over; create a three-day waiting period before a gun purchaser can receive possession of a firearm; and expand "red flag" laws.

Read the full press release here

A Hero Teacher Shares His Lessons 

When shots rang out at Thurston High School’s packed cafeteria in Springfield, Oregon, nearly 25 years ago, teacher and wrestling coach Gary Bowden ran toward the fire, not away. 

He says now that it’s only because the gunman had a low-caliber rifle rather than an assault weapon that he and many others are alive today. Two students were killed, 25 wounded and many more traumatized when a freshman at the school (who had killed his parents the day before) opened fire on May 21, 1998, in a cafeteria filled with hundreds of students. 

One of Bowden's wrestlers, 220-pound Nathan Cole, took seven rounds but was released from a hospital within days. Bowden returned to his classroom as soon as school reopened, but although physically unscathed, he was deeply traumatized. He soon asked Thurston's shop teacher to fabricate a metal shield that he kept in the classroom to defend his students.

“We were very lucky that day,” said Bowden “If this had been an AK-47, I wouldn't be talking to you now. I'd be dead.”

Read more here

Help For Survivors
  • Survivors Empowered has a roster of dedicated trauma therapists who help survivors of gun violence heal from the aftermath. Visit our website for more information. 
  • We created, in collaboration with Giffords, a toolkit for survivors, available at and in downloadable PDF form at our website
  • We continue to look for volunteers across the country who want to help build coalitions and work with survivors of gun violence in their states. If interested in supporting our efforts, please contact us here.
What Survivors Are Saying

“I don’t know why I was chosen to be a product of hate because I’ve never seen that. I’ve never had to live that, and I hate that I’m going through it now.” Felicia Sanders, Charleston, South Carolina

“He could have been an architect, an engineer or an astronaut. Anthony became an ancestor at the age of 16.” Princess Titus, St. Paul, Minnesota

“I was so angry. I had so much hate in my heart. If you’ve never lost a child, you have no idea.” Cathy Swain of Lexington, Kentucky

“Can I stand to be at the courthouse every day for months? Psychologically, no. Do I need to be there some of that time? Absolutely. We are there representing people we love; we are there representing a community that loves us.”Deane Root, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

“I know we live in a dark world. … People make crazy decisions and they do things to people that change their world, but I’m not going to let what happened to me make me not be the loving and caring person that I am.” Lynn Gardner, Raleigh, North Carolina

In The News

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation that requires gun owners to keep weapons unloaded and locked or stored when minors are present and that expands background checks for weapons purchases. Another law awaiting her signature will allow judges to temporarily confiscate weapons from people deemed a threat to themselves or others. 

The Washington state Legislature passed a ban on semiautomatic rifles that covers more than 50 weapons, including AR-15s and AK-47s. Governor Jay Inslee signed the legislation on April 25.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee called on April 21 for a special session of the state Legislature to work on gun legislation after lawmakers adjourned without taking up any gun bills in response to the fatal shootings of three children and three adults at a private school in Nashville on March 27.

The New York Times profiles three crime-scene investigators who documented the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. 

David French writes about the worship of weapons that characterizes the gun-rights movement and gives rise to gun-toting, trigger-happy owners. 


In the face of unrelenting violence, we remember our daughter's words:

“I say all the time that every moment we have to live our life is a blessing. So often I have found myself taking it for granted. Every hug from a family member. Every laugh we share with friends. Even the times of solitude are all blessings. Every second of every day is a gift." 

 —  Jessica Redfield Ghawi (7 weeks before she was killed)

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