Theater Shooting Victims’ Mother A ‘Voice’ For Daughter In Courtroom

Listen Now
Photo: Sandy Phillips Aurora Theater Shooting (AP)
Lonnie and Sandy Phillips, whose daughter Jessica Ghawi was killed in the 2012 Aurora movie theater massacre, outside the Arapahoe County District Court following closing arguments.

As jurors in the Aurora theater shooting trial deliberate, Sandy Phillips waits. She'll soon learn the fate of the man who admitted killing her daughter, Jessica Ghawi, and 11 others in the attack three years ago. Phillips and her husband, Lonnie, who's Jessica's stepfather, relocated to Colorado to attend the trial. They live in a camper -- parked at a generous stranger's house -- not far from the court.

Sandy Phillips talked with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner. Below are highlights from their conversation.

On being in the same room as the gunman and his parents during the trialPhoto: Lonnie and Sandy Phillips (HV)

“We came in early to attend one day of jury selection, just because I was actually terrified of being in the courtroom with the killer… [We] got used to the courtroom, got used to him being there. We see things, being in the courtroom every day, that the people who sit directly behind him don’t see. We see the expressions, we see the laughter, we see the exchanges. We see him watching himself on every video that’s presented. We watched him watch the coroner’s reports and the videos of the dead, and not shed a tear…

“I figure if his parents can be there every day and represent him, Jessi has no voice. So, I’m going to be there every day to represent her and remind people that there were 12 lives lost there.”

On seeing the evidence presented at trial

“When it was my daughter’s coroner’s report, I left the courtroom. I didn’t want to remember her that way… but to see everybody come out for the break from that testimony ashened and shaken, and even the media coming up -- when they’re not supposed to interact with us in the courthouse -- and they were coming up and hugging me. So it let me know how bad things were.”

On what she misses most about her daughter

“It’s the everyday texts that I would get from her. Or her taking pictures, selfies, of trying clothes on and ‘What do you think of this?’ The funny things; she had a great sense of humor, and very sarcastic. I miss that. As my husband says, it’s the absence of her presence that we miss every day.”

On the friendships she has built with other crime victims, including Trayvon Martin’s parents and the families of victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School

“There’s an understanding that doesn’t have to be spoken. We get together, we’ll have a dinner or just hang out together for a while, and no matter where you are in your grief process, it’s understood, because we’ve all been there, and we’ve all been there because of violence… There [aren’t] any expectations of ‘Where are you? Are you going to cry on me today?’ or ‘It’s too painful to be around you because you’re still grieving,’ and we’ve had that said to us. So it’s that kind of acceptance that just becomes your comfort zone.”

On what she’ll do after the trial ends

“We’ve gotten used to seeing a core group of people everyday for the last two and a half or three months, and actually if you look at the entire time, the last three years … and that day-to-day activity won’t be there. And that will be a change. We’ve been redefining who we are now for three years, so you just continue redefining and changing the definition.”

Editor's note: In our original broadcast conversation, Phillips said that people can go to certain websites to buy a gun without a background check anywhere in the U.S. That is illegal in Colorado. However, federal law does permit private online firearms sales without background checks.