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Colorado shooting survivors offer help, support, understanding to Uvalde community

“It's brutal, it changes their entire life,” survivors of mass shooting events help victims and families find support, trauma resources to heal after losing someone.

DENVER — So many communities across the country have felt the pain Uvalde, TX is feeling right now. The tragedies in other places have forced and inspired survivors to become experts in how to deal with so many people being killed. Their life's purpose now is to help others.

“I was awakened by the most horrible, horrific scream I've ever heard come out of anyone's mouth,” Lonnie Phillips told 9NEWS of the night of July 20, 2012. “I jumped out of bed and ran to find out who was attacking my wife. And she was sliding down a wall saying Jessie's dead.”

In the nearly 10 years since Jessica Ghawi was murdered in an Aurora movie theater with 11 other people, her parents, Sandy and Lonnie Phillips have traveled the country holding up survivors of mass violence and bringing attention to the issue.  

“It's brutal, it changes their entire life,” Sandy Philips said. “We’re there to hold their hands and their broken hearts with them and help them to move forward in the healthiest way possible.”

Since Ghawi’s murder on July 20, 2012, the Phillips focused their energy on Survivors Empowered, an organization they formed to help people find support and trauma resources to make sure they’re not alone in their journey after losing a loved one.

“I'm here today and I'm working, because my daughter would want me to continue to live, and to find as much joy in life that I have left,” Phillips said.

The Phillips were in Buffalo, NY, trying to help families in the days after the grocery store shooting, when they heard the news about Uvalde, TX. Now, they’re heading to Texas.

“We try to protect them as best we can. And prepare them for the immediate future and, and the long-term future. And, you know, that's all we can do,” Phillips said.

Columbine’s former principal Frank DeAngelis has lived the last 23 years honoring the 12 kids and a teacher he lost.

“There will always be survivor’s guilt,” DeAngelis told 9NEWS.

DeAngelis said he had a sense of where the Uvalde community may be right now.

“They feel their lives are out of control,” he said. “I mean, they sent their kids to school yesterday morning, and most kids are not going back home. They had no control over that. And so right now they're at that stage of mourning and disbelief.”

But when they’re ready, DeAngelis said, he’s just a phone call away to hopefully help them find meaning in life again, even though it may seem impossible now.

“They do not have to travel that journey alone,” he said.

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