By Dan Burns
NEWTOWN, Conn., Jan 14 (Reuters) - Sandy Phillips began her journey of grief nearly six months ago, and on Monday it brought her to the New England community of Newtown, still shattered by the deaths of 20 first graders and six educators at the hands of a gunman in an elementary school.
Phillips, the mother of Jessica Redfield Ghawi, one of those killed in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater shooting in July, traveled 1,800 miles (2,900 km) to Newtown for the launch by relatives and neighbors of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre's victims of an initiative to end gun violence. [ID:n L2N0A J7HW]
"Unfortunately we lost 12 in Aurora and 58 who were wounded, and some of whose lives are forever altered because of that, but when children are slaughtered, things change, and that's unfortunate," Phillips said. "It's unfortunate."
She and her husband, Lonnie, traveled from their home in San Antonio, Texas, to help Newtown families with their grief. She came to offer her connection as a mother of a massacre victim, she said.
"We wanted to put our arms around them as parents and understand the pain that they are going through, the shock that they are still in," Phillips said
"We're just five months ahead of them in the loss, and we know the pain, we know the shock, we know the frustration."
Phillips' own shock came early on the morning of July 20, when she learned her 24-year-old daughter was killed when, police say, former neuroscience graduate student James Holmes opened fire on a packed midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises," the latest installment of the Batman series.
A Colorado judge last week ordered Holmes to stand trial.
Ghawi, who went by the professional name of Redfield, was an aspiring sports broadcaster working for the NHL's Colorado Avalanche franchise. Just a month before her death, she had been near the scene of another mass shooting, at Toronto's Eaton Centre, where two people were killed and six injured.
Sunday will be the six-month mark since the attack in Aurora, a Denver suburb.
"We're just now becoming sane again, if you want to use that word," Phillips said. "We're just getting over our shock, and beginning to redefine our lives, and redefine how we want to live and what our purpose is."
WANTS LOOPHOLES CLOSED
A gun owner, Phillips said she backs greater restrictions on gun sales and ownership in the United States.
"We would love to see the universal background check for every gun sale in America, no matter if it's private or at a gun show," Phillips said. "The gun show loophole and private sale loopholes are totally unacceptable to us."
She also wants ammunition magazines controlled, and the sale of certain semi-automatic weapons banned outright.
"AR-15s, in my opinion, don't need to be in the hands of the American public, especially under the loopholes that we currently have," Phillips said.
A Bushmaster AR-15-style semi-automatic weapon was used in both the Aurora and Newtown massacres.
In Newtown, police say the gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, also used high-capacity ammunition magazines, changing gun clips frequently during the attack. This allowed him to fire at least 150 rounds or more in his 10-minute assault on the morning of Dec. 14.
Phillips echoed the parents of several Newtown victims who on Monday called for greater research and services for those afflicted by mental illness.
In Aurora, Holmes, now 25, was in the care of a psychiatrist at the time of his attack, and in Newtown, Lanza, who killed his mother at their home before attacking the school, has been described by family friends has having Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism.
"It has to be a comprehensive approach," Phillips said. (Editing by Paul Thomasch and Philip Barbara)