By Special Report

Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, founders of Survivors Empowered, are on the ground in Uvalde, Texas, and are concerned that vulnerable survivors may fall prey to risky situations, such as signing on as plaintiffs in lawsuits without indemnification, in the immediate aftermath of their trauma and loss. Further, they are aware that some donors might not realize that many charities purporting to help survivors do not deliver funds directly to those personally affected by the tragedy.

“We were encouraged by a large nonprofit organization to sue the manufacturer of the bullets that killed our daughter,” said Lonnie Phillips, “but we didn’t realize that without being indemnified for any potential recovery against us, we could lose enough to be bankrupted – and that’s what happened,” he said. The reason: the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA)  has prevented most suits against manufacturers, and allows attorneys fees to be levied against someone unsuccessfully bringing suit against an arms manufacturer shielded by PLCAA. 

Although some recent plaintiffs have been able to settle suits using a novel approach, the terrain is fraught with difficulty and the decision to pursue a case must be undertaken with eyes wide open.

The Phillipses are disturbed as well that there is a long roster of charities claiming to help survivors, but few meeting the immediate needs of the injured, traumatized or bereaved. “Many charities have charters that preclude them from giving direct cash payments,” explains Sandy. “Instead, the funds go to other non-profits for services and resources the families may or may not need.” One fund that does directly support survivors is the National Compassion Fund. “Please vet where you contribute your money carefully,” urges Sandy.

Survivors Empowered, in collaboration with Giffords (the nonprofit founded by former U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords), has put out a free toolkit to help survivors navigate the challenges they are facing, along with overwhelming grief. 

Survivors Empowered is an organization founded by Sandy and Lonnie Phillips after the slaughter of their daughter, Jessica Redfield Ghawi and eleven others in the Aurora Colorado Theater Mass Shooting in 2012. Their original non-profit, Jessi’s Message, has grown into Survivors Empowered – a national organization created by survivors, for survivors, empowering survivors.

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