Survivors Speak!                 October 2022
The Kindness of Strangers Who Become Friends

Our U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy often talks about the perils of loneliness and appreciates the many ways human connection is important to us all. This is what he writes about suffering a disaster:

“Like thousands of others, we survived the storm and the many dark days that followed because of the kindness of strangers who brought food, water and comfort'.”


We can relate. We know how vital it is to have the support of loving friends, family and others who may enter our lives suddenly, and then quickly become the closest of companions in this journey of life. We profile one such good soul in this issue, Russell Hurlburt, an artist and devoted supporter of Survivors Empowered who was a beam of light in our trip to Buffalo after the TOPS tragedy.

Dr. Murthy was appointed surgeon general by then-President Obama. It took him nearly a year and a half to be confirmed, partly because of staunch opposition from the gun lobby. Why the resistance? Among other things, Dr. Murthy had called gun violence a public health problem. We couldn’t agree more. It seems so obvious to us.

We are responding to this onslaught of threat, injury, death and grief with every tool we have.

We were proud to be included in the riveting and powerful “Richochet,” a PBS special about gun violence. It was gut-wrenching for us to lay bare our souls and relive the worst day of our lives, but we believe each of the stories presented in the hour-long documentary is heart-rending, and, we hope, mind-opening for anyone who wants to learn about the widespread collateral consequences and escalating dangers from guns.

Today is the last day of October. November is about to dawn, and Domestic Violence Awareness Month is closing. Another tragiversary looms: Sandy Hook. We will be reaching out to our friends whose lives were altered by that horrific slaughter.

We feel satisfaction from our nationwide Honor with Action tour, which allowed us to connect and reconnect. We fight against the loneliness and despair we know afflicts many of our fellow survivors, not only during those first traumatic days following a loss, but as part of their new normal. When we share with our peers, we help heal ourselves as well, but we do not expect full healing. 

A great solace to us has been our mindfulness meditation practice. If you need to know more, or would like to join an upcoming session, please contact us. 

This last month has been filled with reunions and friendship in beautiful Colorado. It included the generous support of our dear friend Jackson Browne, who donated a portion of his fantastic Red Rocks concert proceeds to us, and featured an art event and benefit in Lone Tree, Colorado.  But it has also been another period marked by the staccato beat of endless gun violence. Read more about policy developments that are highlighted in press coverage, below.

We send you all peace and love,

Sandy and Lonnie

Art, Heart and Soul

For Russell Hurlburt, painting has been a response to grief, a return to an earlier self’s passions, and now with Survivors Empowered, a way to give meaningfully and substantially.

To support the Survivors Empowered art auction held at Lone Tree Art Center last month, and soon to continue online, Hurlburt donated three of his colorful and beautiful paintings to support the cause.

Hurlburt has always been creative and was a gifted young artist when he grew up in upstate New York. A star pupil in his high school art classes, he would sometimes sit his friends down for an impromptu haircut. Forty-two years ago, he had a choice to make: continue art making and pursue teaching or become a professional hairdresser. Hurlburt gave up the paint brush for the hairbrush. 

Read more here

PBS Airs Latest Film On Gun Violence

A powerful new PBS documentary, Ricochet: An American Trauma, premiered in October. The 55-minute film chronicles the devastating impact of mass shootings, community violence and suicides, and features Survivors Empowered founders Sandy and Lonnie Phillips during their nationwide Honor with Action Tour.

Ricochet is  one of several recent film projects to focus on the country's growing epidemic of gun violence. Some of the other films we highly recommend include: 

American Morning: Stephen Dexter wrote the script and stars as a music teacher who struggles after surviving a mass shooting. This short film is fiction, but so true. 

Behind the Bullet: Four people discuss how their lives were impacted after taking the lives of someone in self-defense and by accidental shooting.  

Gabby Giffords Won't Back Down: This documentary tells the story of our friend, the former congresswoman who survived a shooting and then founded a national gun-violence prevention organization. 

Under the Gun: The film examines political inaction as gun violence rises. 

Teen Activist Survives St. Louis School Shooting

As an 11-year-old, Brian Collins joined March for Our Lives, the gun-reform movement started by teens who survived the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. 

Four years later, Brian,15, is now a survivor of a shooting at his school.

On Oct. 24, he sat in a health class at Central Visual Performing Arts High School in St. Louis, Missouri, when a shooter armed with an AR-15-style rifle entered his classroom, killing his teacher and a student. 

Bullets tore through Brian's hands and one lodged in his jaw. He and several classmates escaped by jumping through a second-story window. 

Brian's family has set up a GoFundMe campaign to support his recovery. 

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 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

“They call this the Freedom Amendment. But I can tell you, when you think you’re going to die as you’re being shot or dealing with the effects of PTSD daily or other ramifications of gun violence, this is the furthest thing from feeling free.” Leah Schneider, who joined survivors in opposing a measure that would amend the Iowa Constitution to codify gun rights

“I can smile now. My story is what was pain is now joy because I’m able to tell the story. I could have been gone.” Keisha Williams, who was shot twice in 1990 by an ex-boyfriend

“Most mothers don’t get this privilege like we do. You know, everyone is being an advocate for what’s happening, but they don’t get their child there with them.” Natalie Rosario, whose teenage son survived after being shot in the head

“What we’re trying to do is make it safer for everybody to live a life without a fear of having their lives taken from gun violence.” Erick Bellomy, who became a gun-control advocate in Ohio after his father’s life was taken 

"I think just having the representation of what happens afterward is important for people because without it, you can get kind of stuck in the, 'I don't know what happens next; I don't know what to do.” Kendra Neely, who published a graphic novel about her journey surviving a mass shooting

In The News

The Parkland shooter was sentenced on November 1 after families were able to give statements. The judge was constrained by the jury's verdict to limit the sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole, rather than being able to impose the death penalty.

The man who took the lives of a high school student and teacher in St. Louis failed an FBI background check when attempting to buy a gun from a licensed dealer but was
able to obtain the AR-15-style weapon he used from a private seller. 

The Washington Post highlights how the family of the man who took the lives of a high school student and teacher in St. Louis asked police to confiscate the AR-15-style rifle he used nine days before the shooting.

Mia Tretta and other young people who have survived 
school shootings in the United States have become members of an informal support network who turn to each other for comfort and advice while rebuilding their lives. 

The New York Times writes about a spate of spontaneous shootings in Texas since a law took effect allowing people to carry handguns without a license.

Extreme-risk protection orders issued in New York since June, when the state mandated their use by police,
more than doubled the amount issued prior to that under a law first passed in 2019, Gov. Kathy Hochul said.

The Trace writes about the potential
effect of school lockdown drills on children who have experienced domestic violence.  

Support the Honor With Action Tour

The end of November brings Giving Tuesday, and we hope you'll be able to support us then. (Whenever you support us, we appreciate it!)  In the meantime, we are still traveling, and we are still offering Honor with Action items.

We've got beautiful hats, T-shirts and other apparel, as well as tote bags, mugs and notecards, available to all via our online Bonfire store. Check out our "Only in America" shirt, with images of three assault weapons.

We will give out pens and notepads as complimentary "swag" at upcoming stops.

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