Written by Julie Hail Flory, interim vice chancellor of public affairs in the Office of Public Affairs at Washington University in St. Louis
In the blink of an eye, everything changed for Lonnie and Sandy Phillips. On July 20, 2012, their daughter, Jessica Redfield Ghawi, was one of 12 people killed when a gunman opened fire at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater. With another 70 people in the theater also injured, the incident represents the largest number of casualties in a mass shooting in the United States to date. As part of Washington University in St. Louis’ ongoing efforts to understand the public health implications of gun violence, the Phillipses visited the university this week to meet with students, faculty, administrators and community leaders to share their story. At the invitation of Risa Zwerling Wrighton, wife of Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton, the couple joined a small group of invited guests for a luncheon at the chancellor’s residence Oct. 13.
In addition to six Washington University students, other attendees represented fields including academics, clergy, government, medicine, social activism and victim support. Two of those guests also are themselves survivors of gun violence.
The Phillipses discussed with the group their personal tragedy, which took an even more difficult turn when their lawsuit against the ammunition and gun merchants associated with their daughter’s murder was thrown out of court. The judge in the case held the couple liable for the defense counsel fees, leading them to sell most of their personal belongings and travel the country in an RV to support regional and national efforts to curb gun violence.
The visit to Washington University was the first trip for the Phillipses funded by Jessi’s Message, a nonprofit organization established in their daughter’s name that allows them and other survivors to travel to advocate for gun violence prevention.
Republished with permission from the Washington University Record.