THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — When they heard that 12 people were killed at a country music bar here, Sandy and Lonnie Phillips did what they always do after major mass shootings: They jumped in their camper and went to comfort another American city in mourning.
Their daughter, Jessica Redfield Ghawi, 24, was killed in a shooting at a Colorado movie theater in 2012. Five months later, the devastated parents drove to Newtown, Conn., to try to help parents with the trauma of losing a child.
Now, the couple goes wherever there is a major mass shooting. Thousand Oaks is the 11th community the couple has visited. They came here shortly after comforting families in Pittsburgh, where a gunman killed 11 people at a synagogue on Oct. 27.
“It’s hell because you relive your own shooting all over again,” Sandy Phillips said Thursday. The couple stood in front of the Camarillo Teen Center here, where families gathered to learn whether their loved ones had survived the shooting or had been killed. “But it’s rewarding because you help other survivors.”
The list of the places the Phillips have traveled is a map of American tragedy: San Bernardino, Calif.; Santa Fe and Sutherland Springs, Tex.; Orlando and Las Vegas.
The Phillipses do this because they feel as though they can help others dealing with the shock and grief of losing a child.
The couple remembers losing friends because they didn’t know how to handle the couple’s grief or what to say to them.
“We’re the only ones who understand,” Lonnie Phillips said.
They lived in San Antonio when Jessica was killed, but now they are on the road full-time. Thursday morning, they were in Southern California visiting friends when they turned on the television and came here to Ventura County.
“They’re coming so quickly,” Sandy Phillips said of recent shootings.
The couple, wearing buttons with their daughter’s picture on it, were trying to get into the center to speak with families. They now know exactly what to do.
“We’ve gotten better at it, unfortunately,” she said.
She said that they mostly try to listen to family members.
“You start by saying, ‘I am sorry this happened to you, and your life is forever changed,” she said. “And then you listen.”