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Julian Castro Defends Brother Joaquin Castro's Tweet Naming Trump Campaign Donors; President Trump Pledges Support For "Meaningful" Background Checks; Retired Military Officers Speak Out Against Assault Weapons On U.S. Streets. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired August 9, 2019 - 21:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, ANDERSON COOPER 360: Chris Cuomo is off tonight. Welcome to a special edition of 360.

In the hour ahead, President Trump's confidence that he, and pretty much he alone, can take on the National Rifle Association, although he hasn't done that in the past, and secure legislation for stricter background checks for gun buyers, also, his visit to El Paso and Dayton this week, and his behavior throughout.

We begin though not in either of those cities, but in Clear Lake, Iowa because of all of this is now part of the Presidential campaign.

Joining us is Democratic Presidential Candidate, former Housing Secretary, Julian Castro. Secretary Castro, appreciate you being with us. Do you take the President at his word? Well actually I probably shouldn't even phrase it that way.

Do you believe he actually is going to try to do something on background checks because that's what he said after Parkland? He's saying the same thing. Do you think it's going to be different this time?

JULIAN CASTRO (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well look, all of us hope and we'll work toward that. I hope that the President is serious and that Mitch McConnell is serious. But like anybody who has watched these two and what they've done when it comes to common-sense gun safety legislation in the past, I'm not holding my breath.

What often happens with this President is that he says what he thinks he needs to say, to calm people down, in the heat of the moment, when people are demanding common-sense gun safety legislation, like he did after Parkland.

And then, a few days go by, with no action, a few weeks go by with no action, and then suddenly, a few months and even years go by without any action.

I hope this time is different. But really, it's up to all of us as American citizens to continue putting the pressure on the President, and on Republicans in the Senate to actually do something this time. COOPER: Yes. I mean it's not a good sign if for -- for those who want some sort of change on -- on back -- on background checks that Mitch McConnell -- the President isn't telling Mitch McConnell, "You've got to come back now. You got to bring everybody back now. We have to get this done now."

Mitch McConnell is saying, you know, we'll -- we'll look into this, you know, once summer recess is over.

CASTRO: Yes. And, you know, one of the defining aspects of the American body politic today is that, you know, I'm as guilty of this as anybody out there, but it's very short attention span, very short attention span.

So, what's a hot issue right now and what people are really pushing on today could well be different in two weeks, two months, and much less, even further along than that and I think they're counting on that.

I really believe that this is part of a -- a new NRA playbook to mouth some happy words, give some encouraging signs that change might happen, cool people down in the moment, and then let the moment pass without doing anything.

COOPER: Yes, I want to play for our viewers who haven't following this as closely, some of what the President has said over the course of time, and just how -- how -- how similar it is. Let's listen.


DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to be very strong on background checks. We'll be doing very strong background checks.

We want to be very powerful, very strong on background checks.

We certainly have to strengthen background checks, everybody agrees with that.

We're really, I think, going to have the support of the NRA having to do with background checks, very strong background checks.

I think it's time. It's time that a President stepped up, and we haven't had them -- and I'm talking Democrat and Republican Presidents. They have not stepped up.

It's not going to be talk like it has been in the past. It's been going on too long, too many instances. And we're going to get it done.


COOPER: I mean he's -- he's not giving any specifics, you know. Now he's saying meaningful background checks. No -- you know, who knows what that means.

CASTRO: It is. It sounds like -- it sounds like just talk, and that's what it's been so far, no action, just talk. And on the mean -- in the meantime, he has cozied up to the NRA. He's depending on the NRA to dump a lot of money to help him get re-elected in 2020.

[21:05:00] You also have a Congress that is full of, especially Republicans, who believe that they need the NRA, and its supporters, to get re-elected. And, you know, that makes it very hard to actually get something done.

But I will say, Anderson, the most striking moment to me the last few days was the moment where the Governor of Ohio went up there, the -- a day or two after the shooting in Dayton, and basically got shouted down by people of different backgrounds, I'm sure, Republicans and Democrats that shouted "Do something."

That resonates with a lot of Americans right now, Republican and Democrat, 90 percent of whom support universal background checks. So, I don't believe that people are just going to let it go.

COOPER: I also want to ask you about reporting today by -- by Axios that -- that Trump campaign officials and allies to the President, some of them believe that the Democratic candidates, including yourself, calling the President a White -- a White nationalist or a White supremacist that that charge could actually help him win re- election.

Do you think they could be right? Could it both embolden his base and alienate mainstream Republicans?

CASTRO: I believe that his failure to help bring this nation together along racial and ethnic lines, and in fact, his active fostering of hate along ethnic and racial lines is one of the reasons that he's going to lose in 2020, not succeed, because I think a lot of people, no matter what the color of their skin is, what their background is, they can see what's happening in this country.

I would ask Americans, "Do you feel more divided or less under President Trump? Do you really believe that we can take four more years of this? Do you feel good about our country right now under his leadership in these last few days when we should have a President that is out there, able to heal the country?" He's completely unable to rise to the occasion time and time again.


CASTRO: So, he may think that this racial priming that he's engaged in is going to help him. But I don't believe it is. I think that a strong coalition of people from different backgrounds is going to go the other direction.

COOPER: Just lastly, I want to ask you about, along those lines, about alienating -- about something that your brother, the Congressman Joaquin Castro did earlier this week, tweeting out the names of people in his district who gave the maximum donation to the President's re- election campaign, and writing, quote, "Their contributions are fueling a campaign of hate that labels Hispanic immigrants as Invaders."

I know you defended that action today. I mean people have said "Well look, this is all public information. Reporters look into this stuff. This is all available for anybody."

But for an elected official to be putting this out, a lot of the Republicans are saying, "Look, this is inappropriate. It's essentially in a time where people are -- are so polarized, you know, potentially threatening, putting a target on some of these people."

CASTRO: Well my brother put that information out, which is publicly available information, of folks that had maxed out, made the maximum contribution to the Trump campaign, a lot of them high-profile business owners in San Antonio.

As he said, as a lament to say, look how ironic it is that we're in a city in San Antonio that is over 60 percent Hispanic. A lot of these folks have made their money, they made their fortune off of the backs of the Hispanic community. A lot of their employees are Hispanic.

And they are contributing money into the pocket of a campaign for Donald Trump that is then turning around, and putting Facebook ads up that say that there's a Hispanic invasion to the United States, and creating a climate of fear and hostility toward the Hispanic community.

That's what my brother was doing. And, you know, some of these Right- wing publications suggest that he was doxxing these people. He did not put their phone numbers or their addresses in his post. He listed their names. He said that they were max-out contributors.

I guess what President Trump wants--

COOPER: Are you glad he took it down?

CASTRO: --is he wants that information to be secret. What's that?

COOPER: Are you glad that he took it down? He took down the -- the -- the tweet.

CASTRO: Look that was his decision. But I do think, I do believe that in our democratic society, we have public disclosure rules and laws, so that this kind of stuff doesn't happen in the dark, so that people do know who are funding campaigns.

And if it's publicly available information, and he shared it without sharing anything that was private, he didn't share their addresses or phone numbers--

COOPER: Right.

CASTRO: --or anything like that, then I believe that there's value in that, sure.

COOPER: Secretary Julian Castro, appreciate it, thank you very much.

CASTRO: Thank you.

COOPER: Coming up next, we're going to get the latest from the White House on the President's claims on wanting meaningful background checks, and how they track with the facts.

[21:10:00] And later, the couple who have made it their mission to travel the country, try to bring comfort and counseling and light wherever mass killers have struck, and darkness has fallen.


COOPER: Talking today about past failed gun control bills, President Trump said, and I'm quoting, "They went nowhere, but there's never been a President like President Trump."

He did not mention that the last time he said something like this, after the Parkland tragedy, he folded under pressure from the NRA. This time though, he says he will get what he calls meaningful background checks, whatever that may mean, from Congress.

As always, the President -- the question is, is there any reason at all to believe him?

Some answers now from CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the White House tonight. Kaitlan, the President certainly had a lot to say about background checks today, and much of which he has said before, let's take a look.


[21:15:00] TRUMP: I think my base relies very much on common sense, and they rely on me, in terms of telling them what's happening. I think meaningful background checks, I don't just say "background checks" because we passed background checks a number of times, meaning the Demo -- but everybody knew they weren't that strong.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You want to expand the law?

TRUMP: I think meaningful background checks are a real positive. Politically, I can't tell you. You know, I don't know, good, bad, or indifferent. I don't care, politically. I don't want to have crazy people having guns.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, look, the President, Anderson, is facing intense pressure here to do something, take some kind of action, and background checks has been the thing that has been on the President's mind since these two back-to-back shootings.

And some Republicans are hoping to keep the President's support on that steady which, of course, in the past, it hasn't been, are assuring him that his base, those gun owners, those NRA members are going to be with him on this, and they're going to trust him not to take their guns away.

And so, that's something, certainly a sentiment, that you can see from the President's comments there today that is on his mind as he's weighing what to do here. COOPER: Right. After Parkland though, I mean, he said basically the exact same thing. You know, he made fun of Republican and other Members of Congress for being afraid of the NRA.

He said he's not afraid of them, and that, you know, he would take on the, you know, he would -- he would bear the burden of this, and then folded on it, you know, basically the next day, after the NRA went to him.

COLLINS: Yes. And he claimed today that he hasn't said before what he's saying now. But if you look at his comments about background checks, they're very similar to what he said after that Parkland shooting, talking about getting that, and then of course, no action happened there.

So, that's why you're seeing actually a lot of skepticism from some of these Republicans, these Senate Republicans, especially who don't know if the President is going to change his mind on this.

Now they say if he supports it, and that support holds -- holds strong, it could help move the Republican Party a little bit. But, of course, they know they're dealing with a President who changes his mind often, so I think that's why you're seeing not a lot of Republicans come out, and be on the record, supporting stronger background checks.

COOPER: Right. Because they don't want to get -- undercut by the President the next day. The -- the President also talked about Mitch McConnell being fully on board. Is he in fact on board?

COLLINS: Not based on what he said so far. Now, he did do a radio interview where he said he's open to pursuing some kind of legislation, looking at what these -- this bipartisan group of lawmakers can come up with.

But after the President said today that he spoke with Mitch McConnell who, he said, had been waiting to hear from him, and he was totally on board, you can see where Mitch McConnell is, because his office came out pretty quickly after that, and said, "No. The Senate Majority Leader has not endorsed any kind of legislation right now."

COOPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins, thanks very much.

Joining us now is Robert Draper. He's a writer-at-large for The New York Times Magazine. He's reported extensively on -- on gun issues. Robert, thanks for being with us.


COOPER: When the President says he wants meaningful background checks, that phrase, can it be squared with anything the NRA would actually support?

DRAPER: Conceivably. I mean it's by meaningful what -- what he may be trying to say, Anderson, is some kind of checks that would have prevented one of these particular shootings. And the only thing I can think of that would do that, since, and in

the -- the most recent cases, these guns, as far as we can tell, were purchased legally, would have been some kind of mental, you know, mental health red flag sort of thing.

And so, the President could be referring to that, and the NRA has come out in favor of -- basically has adopted the posture that we don't want mentally-ill people to have possession of -- of firearms.

Now, when it's come down to it, the NRA has, in fact, opposed legislation, for example, that would deny the -- any legislation that would deny firearms to someone who's been dishonorably discharged from the Army, for example, from mental illness.

So, it's -- the proof is in the pudding and it remains to be seen whether or not the NRA actually in -- indicating its receptiveness really is receptive to those.

COOPER: I mean it's -- it's very easy, you know, and -- and sort of on the face of it when you quickly think about it that it would seem to make sense, OK, if somebody's, you know, disturb -- mentally ill, not a great idea for them to have guns.

DRAPER: Right.

COOPER: But just when -- when, you know, when you actually kind of drill down on it, from a law standpoint, does that mean that a first responder who has PTSD should never be allowed to have a firearm after they've retired, you know?


COOPER: So, should anybody who's, you know, in therapy or depressed, I mean I think there's a lot of layers to it that would have to be thought through.

DRAPER: Yes. That's right, Anderson.

And I think, you know, it's -- it's important to recognize that the NRA made it very, very clear, they came out very strongly saying we oppose anything that is going to infringe on the right to bear arms. And -- and so, that's where they are. That's -- and that's -- to the extent that there will be negotiations, that's how it all opens.

Now it comes to say, Mitch McConnell who, you know, is certainly trying to further the President's agenda, but first and foremost is the custodian of the Republican Senate Majority.

He's going to be paying attention to what Senators back home, whether they're feeling the heat from this, and they in turn are paying attention to what President Trump is doing, and whether or not he will exert leadership on this. So finally, it really does come down to the man in the Oval Office.

COOPER: You wrote extensively about the NRA in the year following Sandy Hook. DRAPER: Right.

COOPER: You detailed how they fought against new gun control then. Do they still have as much influence? Has anything changed? I mean obviously they're having internal problems. Has anything changed in terms of their funding or how they operate?

DRAPER: Well yes. I mean administratively, yes, there has been a lot of conflict. It's become a very fractious organization. Financially, they have not been doing as well as they should.

[21:20:00] And they've been facing opposition from without -- external opposition from like Moms Demand Action and other aggressed roots -- groups that were not nearly as powerful as they were, say in 2012, 2013.

Having said all of that, the NRA is still politically formidable. And don't ask me, ask the Republicans, because they're the ones who fear the NRA. And -- and fear is, of course, a psychological condition.

It's there aren't many instances on record of somebody actually being voted out of office because of the NRA. But they believe that they have that influence. And as long as -- as Republicans are unwilling to stand up to the NRA, as long as they perceive that the NRA has that strength, then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

COOPER: Robert Draper, I really appreciate you being on. Thank you.

DRAPER: Sure thing.

COOPER: Just to add, throughout American history, most Presidents have done their best to console the nation in times of national tragedy, though goes without saying.

With that in mind, what -- what does this past week and this President's behavior mean in historical terms? We'll talk to Historian Douglas Brinkley, also CNN Political Analyst, Kirsten Powers join us next.


[21:25:00] COOPER: Well it's certainly been a difficult week, as we said, two shootings, two cities, within hours of one another. In the past, Presidents have tried to both console and inspire, in times like these, and to listen to the victims, their families.

That manifestly did not happen this week. Want to get some perspective from CNN Presidential Historian, Doug Brinkley, and USA Today Columnist, Kirsten Powers, a CNN Political Analyst.

Doug, you -- I know you -- this whole tradition of Presidents going, and sort of being Consoler-in-Chief, is that -- has that always been in our history?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN, HISTORY PROFESSOR AT RICE UNIVERSITY: No. I mean transportation moved it all along. For example, when Theodore Roosevelt had to deal with the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, he couldn't take a jet to San Francisco.

COOPER: Right.

BRINKLEY: So, in the modern times, for a while, TV anchors were the ones who did it. Walter Cronkite would -- would be the person.

But Lyndon Johnson broke the mold in 1965. He went down to the Ninth Ward in New Orleans, got in a boat, and actually went at night where people were suffering, and put a flashlight in his face, and said, "You know, I'm -- I hear you. I'm here. America loves you."

And it was a great LBJ moment, and Nixon followed suit with Hurricane Camille when it hit the Mississippi Gulf, 1969.

But it's Ronald Reagan, with the Challenger, with Peggy Noonan writing that speech that moved so many people that kind of set this bar up that we expect modern Presidents to be kind of a Grief Counselor and heal the wounds of a nation when we feel divided.

COOPER: Kirsten, you know, in -- in past times of tragedy, you usually see people, both citizens and politicians on both sides of the aisle, pulling together, and that's one of the extraordinary things about moments like this. But we've seen in -- we've seen citizens do it.

But just in terms of politics, kind of the opposite was happening at times this week. I'm wondering what you think that says about where we are now as a country.

KIRSTEN POWERS, USA TODAY COLUMNIST, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well I mean the thing that I just keep asking myself is how can Republicans be OK with this?

It's, you know, I -- I understand that people say that they -- they like things that Donald Trump has done that they -- they think he's done a good job with the economy, they like that he -- who he's put on the Supreme Court.

But how can you sit and watch -- watch this kind of stuff? I mean, frankly, just this utter self-involvement when people have been massacred, you know, victims of mass murder, and you have the President making it all about himself, you know, talking about his crowds, the White House creating basically a campaign video, you know, off of a visit to, you know, to -- to victims and, you know, or families of the victims.

And I think that I -- I also wonder what is it like for -- for -- for people who are coming of age right now, right, do -- do they think this is normal that this is how Presidents behave because it isn't how Presidents behave.

And -- and, you know, as -- as you just mentioned, I mean we can -- we can think of any President, whether you liked them or not, at different points, where they brought the country together.


POWERS: When we had a crisis.

COOPER: Yes. I mean I was talking to -- to Doug during the break.

Doug, you know, we -- last night, we played, you know, a selection of Ronald Reagan on -- talking about the Challenger, Bill Clinton talking about Oklahoma City, George W. Bush talking about 9/11, from a mosque, in the days after.

And you hear them speak, you know, somewhere on teleprompter, George W. was impromptu, and they were, you know, eloquent. And if they weren't, you know, eloquent and with turns of phrase, their emotion was real, and their honesty came forward, it -- it stands in stark contrast to the abilities of -- of this President rhetorically.

BRINKLEY: Yes, if you go to Oklahoma--

COOPER: And perhaps emotionally.

BRINKLEY: If you go to Oklahoma City today, they have an incredible museum there for about what happened in April of 1995, the 168 dead, over 680 people wounded. And Bill Clinton has woven throughout the whole experience because he came there--


BRINKLEY: --and gave this extraordinary speech about the empty chairs and the dead and healed the country. Bill Clinton used, in a way, that Oklahoma City moment to pull the country together and helped him get re-elected in 1996.

There isn't going to be a Donald Trump Museum in display in a positive way in Dayton or El Paso because he flunked.

It was good that he went. That was the right decision to try to kind of heal the wounds. But -- but, in the end, it was a zero performance of just trying to self-promote himself.

COOPER: It's also interesting, Kirsten, all the reporting of Maggie Haberman and others that that the President was annoyed by the lack of cameras inside, when in fact that's the most powerful message often when Presidents go to this that they don't have cameras inside.

And they are in a -- in a closed room with, you know, parents who -- whose children have just been slaughtered or whose parents have just been slaughtered, and they are embracing them, and they're listening to them, and they're adding words that they can't.

But I mean the fact that I -- I was giving the President credit that there weren't cameras inside. He seemed to think that was a bad thing.

POWERS: Yes. I mean one of the most remarkable and troubling things about Donald Trump is his utter lack of empathy. And -- and -- and -- and that's what we see here is that he cannot get outside of himself, and -- and think about other people, even in the most dire of circumstances. [21:30:00] I mean where there is just no other way to look at it and, you know, the picture of them holding that baby with the thumbs-up, I mean it's just -- it's so outside what is acceptable.

COOPER: Yes. Kirsten Powers, thank you, Doug Brinkley, as well.

Still ahead, why retired military officers are speaking out against assault weapons on American streets.


COOPER: Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has tough new words for politicians unable or unwilling to eliminate the sale of semi-automatic weapons. Retired Admiral Mark Mullen writes in The Atlantic that -- Mike Mullen, I'm sorry, in The Atlantic that this is the only way to stop the slaughter of children.

I'm quoting. "These weapons are for war; they are not for sport. Assault weapons are designed to kill as many people as possible in the shortest time possible. As the tragic events last week in El Paso and Dayton attest, these weapons make it virtually impossible for law- enforcement agencies to stop those bent on taking lives."

I want to talk to CNN Military Analyst and Retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. General Hertling, you know Admiral Mullen. Do you agree with him when he says that these weapons are -- are for war, not for sport?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), U.S. ARMY, CNN MILITARY ANALYST, FORMER ARMY COMMANDING GENERAL, EUROPE/SEVENTH ARMY: Yes, I certainly do, Anderson. And I think most -- at least most Senior Military would also agree with him. And I think most Junior Military would as well.

[21:35:00] They see the repercussions and the damage that these kinds of weapons can -- can exhibit on people, and they're -- they're totally against, I think, for the most part, I won't try and speak for all of the military, but a good portion of the military says that these are not weapons that should be on the streets of America.

COOPER: Former Senator Rick Santorum was on the program last night. And he said that there's no such thing as an assault weapon. And -- and what people consider to be assault weapons like AR-15s are essentially no different from other semi-automatic hunting rifles.

HERTLING: Yes. That's not true. And -- and Senator Santorum should know that. The fact of the matter is there's a debate about what defines an assault weapon. In fact, the NRA was the first organization to use the term.

I've never known them as an assault weapon. I always called an M16 or an M4 rifle, the military version of the 16 or the M4 carbine just that term. But since I've been in the private sector, I hear the term assault weapons.

And the first thing that will happen with anyone that's interested in the gun debate, if you're on the side of more guns, you will say, "You guys don't know what you're talking about because there's no such thing as an assault weapon."

But let me define it for you, Anderson, what these kinds of weapons are. They are number one, short-barreled, number two, either a folding or a collapsible stock, so they can make the weapon smaller.

They have a magazine that can carry a large capacity of ammunition that can shoot a lot of bullets in a short period of time. And they have a muzzle velocity, the speed of the bullet going out the barrel, upwards of 3,200 to 4,000 feet per second. That's killing power.

That's why it's important for the military to have these weapons. Those are unlike any kind of civilian weapons that you see on the environment. And they are specifically designed to kill people in war.

I've seen it. I've seen the repercussions of that. I'm sure Admiral Mullen and others have as well. And that's why many of us are saying they should not be on the streets of America because -- because they have a high capacity for killing, and a very large capacity for disastrous injuries to people when the bullet goes in.

COOPER: Right.

HERTLING: Let me give you example of what that feet per second that 3,200 or 4,000 feet per second does, Anderson.

The bullet not only enters and shreds the tissue and the internal organs, but there have been tests run on that kind of a speed of a velocity of a bullet, and it will also have a concussive effect.

So, the bullet not only enters and hits the organs, but it actually has an air wave around it that will concuss inside the wound, and tear out the inside of the body. That's unfortunately what they're designed to do in war.

COOPER: Which, by the way, pointing out (ph), the shooter in El Paso actually wrote about his decision to use the bullets that he was using, and the effect those bullets have on -- on internal organs.


COOPER: General Hertling, I appreciate your expertise, thank you.

HERTLING: Thank you.

COOPER: Want to give you a follow-up to what we reported here last night.

A prosecutor says a 20-year old man, who walked into a Missouri Walmart, carrying guns, and wearing body armor, is being charged with making a terrorist threat. Suspect was captured on video and was held by a fireman who was armed with a concealed carry permit until police arrived, and arrested him. That's the latest on that.

In -- in central question, at times like these is how can anyone help the families of mass shooting victims through their grief and their anger? Coming up, I'm going to introduce you to a special couple that I met and their commitment to try to help those in need.





COOPER: As this is very difficult weekends, I want to bring you a story of hope and commitment. It began a long time ago, back in 2012, when I was covering the mass shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. You'll remember, 12 people were killed there, and 70 injured.

Among the dead was an aspiring Sports Reporter Jessica Ghawi. I met and interviewed her brother Jordan at the site, and he called the killer a coward, and said that victims, not the shooter, should be the focus of the public's attention.

He was right. And what he said to me that day, it stuck. Since then on this program, we tried never to identify that -- give the -- the name of a shooter or show a picture of a shooter of mass killing.

I also met Jordan and Jessica's mother. And, earlier this year, I spent time with her. Sandy Phillips is her name, and her husband is Lonnie.

After Jessica's death, they began a remarkable mission, essentially becoming first responders in grief, traveling the country, meeting, talking and counseling people living through what they themselves have suffered.

I profiled them for 60 Minutes, and here's that report.


S. PHILLIPS: Your identity has been stripped from you, you know, whether it's mother or daddy or father or sister or brother. I no longer have that title. I no longer have that relationship. And when it's violence, like -- like ours was, that takes a long time to recover from.

COOPER: I think some people think that there's a timetable for grief.

S. PHILLIPS: Oh, yes.

COOPER: Do you get that?

S. PHILLIPS: Oh, yes. The five stages of grief, right? And you go through all five of them, and you think, "OK, now I'm done." And they don't tell you, "Oh, no, you get to start it all again. And they're out of sequence."

A lot of survivors just don't know that, especially going into it. You might find that what you have done for the last 20 years of your life or 30 years of your life has absolutely no meaning to you anymore. And that was certainly the case for us.

COOPER: It wasn't long after their daughter's murder that Sandy and Lonnie Phillips quit their jobs. They've gotten rid of most of their belongings and rented out their house, so they can travel around the country to mass shootings, hoping to meet survivors and offer help.

The scene of a mass shooting is not an easy place to come to. It can be like walking into a stranger's funeral.

S. PHILLIPS: We don't know each other yet. But we do now.

COOPER: But in grief, strangers can quickly become family.

S. PHILLIPS: You got a second mom here. It's going to be--

COOPER: We saw the Phillipses in Thousand Oaks, California, where 12 people were gunned down at a country music bar last November.

It is one of the latest stops on their heartbreaking journey.

LONNIE PHILLIPS, FATHER OF AURORA SHOOTING VICTIM JESSICA GHAWI: If you haven't lost somebody close to you, you can't comprehend it.

[21:45:00] COOPER: Just days before they arrived here, they were in Pittsburgh, where 11 people were murdered at the Tree of Life Synagogue.

It's so interesting, though, what you're doing. You're not trained therapists. You're not counselors. And yet, you're -- have upended your lives and reaching out in a very individual way to people.

S. PHILLIPS: Yes. It's compassion.

COOPER: That's what it is?

S. PHILLIPS: Bottom line, it's about compassion.

L. PHILLIPS: The compassion we get from those people too.


L. PHILLIPS: It's not like it's a one-way deal.

COOPER: It was in 2012 that their daughter Jessica Ghawi was murdered along with 11 others in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. She was 24, and an aspiring Sports Reporter.

Can you take me back to that day?

S. PHILLIPS: Yes. The young man that was with her, Brent, was like a son to us. And she decided that she wanted to take him to see the Batman movie. And when the shooting happened they stood up, and never made it out.

COOPER: Both of them?

S. PHILLIPS: Brent survived. He -- he was shot, trying to save her. He went into paramedic mode immediately because that's what he does for a living. And the phone rang.

COOPER: He called you from inside the theater?

S. PHILLIPS: Yes. And I could hear the screaming going on in the background. And he said, "There's been a shooting."

S. PHILLIPS: And I said, "Are you OK?" And he said, "I think I've been shot twice." And I knew then that, OK, something's bad. And I said, "Where's Jessi?" And he said, "I tried." And I said, "Is she OK?" And he said, "I did my best. I tried." And I said, "Oh God, Brent, don't tell me she's dead." And he said, "I'm really sorry." And I started screaming.

L. PHILLIPS: And she was sliding down the wall screaming, and I grabbed her and picked her up, took her to the couch, and she kept yelling, "Jessie's dead!"

S. PHILLIPS: It's been six years now, almost seven, and there's not a day that goes by that we don't still get upset and still cry.

COOPER: I lost a brother to suicide, and a lot of people say, you know, this is -- you're now part of a group which you never wish you would be part of.

S. PHILLIPS: Right. And it's a lifetime membership and the cost of the dues was way, way, way too high.

COOPER: Sandy is 68, Lonnie, 75.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Toward U.S. 101 Los Angeles.

COOPER: They've been living mostly on savings, social security, and goodwill.

L. PHILLIPS: I know that you're -- you're on a deadline.

COOPER: Occasionally crashing with friends.

S. PHILLIPS: How are you guys doing?


COOPER: They started a non-profit organization called Survivors Empowered, to offer advice and kinship in the wake of mass shootings.

L. PHILLIPS: I've got a couple of recordings I wanted to--

COOPER: But also to give families practical information, like how to deal with media attention or how to get a body home for a funeral.

L. PHILLIPS: It's Lonnie, just checking in on you. COOPER: There's things that happen to the families of people who have been shot in a mass killing that do not happen to families of somebody who has died under different circumstances.

S. PHILLIPS: Exactly. The worst part is finding out that the day your child has been killed, that there are already websites that have popped up, and Facebook pages that have popped up saying this is a false flag, and this didn't happen.

COOPER: Did you have people saying Jessica wasn't real? Or--

S. PHILLIPS: Oh, yes.

COOPER: --she's a crisis actor.


COOPER: She wasn't real.


COOPER: She wasn't there.


COOPER: You didn't lose a daughter?

S. PHILLIPS: All the time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You never saw your sister's dead body.

COOPER: Since Jessica's murder, Sandy's son Jordan has been harassed and threatened by a man who, like many conspiracy theorists, claims there was no massacre in Aurora.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your days are numbered, mother (BEEP).

COOPER: It's hard to imagine, but similar harassment now happens to families almost every time there's a mass shooting.

L. PHILLIPS: That's the worst kind of harm you can do to someone. And you're a devastated parent -- parent becoming more devastated.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 315 and 314, first shooting at Century Theaters.

COOPER: After the massacre in Aurora, Sandy and Lonnie, who were gun owners themselves, filed a lawsuit against companies that sold gear and ammunition to their daughter's killer over the internet. The Judge threw out the case and ordered them to pay more than $200,000 to cover defendant's legal fees.

S. PHILLIPS: Contract with them, consulting.

COOPER: They had to declare bankruptcy and now consult for a gun control group to make ends meet.

S. PHILLIPS: Paying that forward right here, good.


COOPER: But, they say they keep that work separate from their outreach to survivors.

L. PHILLIPS: We don't ever bring up guns when we go.

S. PHILLIPS: Yes. We never bring up politics or guns.

L. PHILLIPS: We don't advocate, we don't recruit, we don't do any of that stuff, until somebody shows an interest.


L. PHILLIPS: And -- and we tell them, you know, you're not ready yet.

[21:50:00] COOPER: The course of their new lives has followed a roadmap of American tragedies. They started in Newtown, then went to Isla Vista, San Bernardino, Orlando, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Parkland, Santa Fe, Pittsburgh and Thousand Oaks. Each massacre is different, but the look Sandy and Lonnie see on the faces of those left behind is the same.



COOPER: Annika and Mitch Dworet's 17-year-old son Nicholas, who had just earned a Swimming Scholarship to college, was murdered with 16 others, in Parkland, Florida last year.

M. DWORET: I expect Nick to come home any day or -- walk through the house. He was such a great kid.


COOPER: Nick's younger brother Alex, who was grazed by a bullet, doesn't talk much about what happened. He was in a classroom across the hall from Nick's when the shooting began. Their parents were nearby waiting for school to let out.

A. DWORET: And Alex called us and said "Mom, I'm in a back of an ambulance. I was hit in the back of the head." And in my mind, I didn't really worry about Nicholas because there's 3,500 at that school, one child was shot. What's the odds of two of my kids being shot that -- and I took off to the hospital. And I said, "Mitch, you can wait for Nicholas and".

M. DWORET: And I waited for Nicholas.


COOPER: They waited for 12 hours before finally being told Nicholas was dead. Within days, a mutual friend connected them with Sandy and Lonnie Phillips.

Do you remember that first meeting?

S. PHILLIPS: Yes. Oh, of course. Of course. They had a house full of people. We felt a little bit like we were intruding on a very private moment, which we were, but for a good reason.

A. DWORET: I -- I was a little skeptical in the beginning, and I'm thinking to myself, "What do they want from us."

M. DWORET: What do they want?

A. DWORET: "Why are they here?" After speaking to them, which too we -- lasted for three hours--

COOPER: Three hours? That was the first experience--

A. DWORET: Three hours. Yes--

M. DWORET: And they took the time just to be here.


M. DWORET: And just, "We're not here for any other reason but for you guys."


M. DWORET: Because you're in a place that's just not of this normal life.



M. DWORET: You can't imagine.

A. DWORET: When you open your eyes in the morning, you're just like, "Why should I get up today? Why -- why should I do that?" And it's just so painful to feel this pain the whole day. And then to meet somebody who has been through this, and six years later, and they are getting out of beds.

COOPER: You could look at Sandy and actually see a way through, potentially?

A. DWORET: Right. Right.

COOPER: What are some of the things you -- kind of the list of things you warn a grieving parent who--

S. PHILLIPS: The list is I know you don't want to get out of bed right now, but you're going to live through this in spite of it. Just know that it's going to take you a long time, that's number one. Number two, people are ripping you off right now as we're speaking. There's probably a GoFundMe page somewhere, raising funds for the families, and that money goes into their bank account. You know, you'll never see it. So, be careful who you trust. So, it's an introduction. You know, Mass Shooting Grief 101.

COOPER: To help them keep up, the Phillipses are trying to create a network of survivors who can quickly respond to mass shootings anywhere in the country, volunteers like Shanna Caputo. She met Sandy and Lonnie in 2017 after surviving the massacre at a music festival in Las Vegas.

SHANNA CAPUTO, LAS VEGAS SHOOTING SURVIVOR: When I first met them, I asked them if I could go to Parkland with them because that was after Vegas, and she was like "No honey, you're not ready for this yet."

S. PHILLIPS: She's telling her story, and I'm listening to her and I'm going, "Oh my God."


COOPER: Shanna showed Sandy the cellphone video she unintentionally recorded of the shooting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody get down, get down.

S. PHILLIPS: And I'm watching the video, and I'm going, "This is triggering me." I can't imagine what she has really gone through.


COOPER: What was happening around you?

CAPUTO: People were going down right away.


CAPUTO: I could hear the bullets whizzing right past my head. You would just see that -- them like jerk, and I don't know if I can say this, but you would see them just explode.


COOPER: The gunfire lasted more than 10 minutes. 58 people were killed.


COOPER: For weeks afterward, Shanna says she was hardly able to leave her house. Sandy advised her to see a therapist who specializes in severe trauma.

CAPUTO: So, after about four or five months of therapy, I was like a walnut and it cracked open. And I finally cried about it. And I called Sandy, and I'm like, "I cried." I was all excited.

S. PHILLIPS: And I said, "I'm actually very happy. Now you can begin to put things together, and -- and create the new you." And now she's doing incredible work. COOPER: So, this has been growing really ever since the shootings?


COOPER: The work Shanna Caputo is doing started last fall, after the bar shooting in Thousand Oaks, California, which is just miles from her house. She's now trying to help some of those survivors the way Sandy and Lonnie Phillips helped her.

[21:55:00] COOPER: Wouldn't it be easier for you to not be immersed in the world of mass shootings? You are immersed in--

S. PHILLIPS: We are.

COOPER: --in a very dark--

S. PHILLIPS: We -- we live it. But we don't see it as dark. We say -- we see it as shedding a little light. We care about these people. We want to help them find their purpose and find their strength so that they can live their new normal.


COOPER: And what a sad new normal it is! If you want more information on the work that Sandy and Lonnie Phillips are doing, the website is

Up next is CNN's Special Report, State of Hate: The Explosion of White Supremacy.