Anjum Coffland’s Husband Killed Their Twin Girls and Shot Her

At just 16, Anjum Coffland’s twin daughters, Brittany and Tiffany, had their career paths already mapped out.

A cheerleader and gymnast, Brittany wanted to work in hospitality — a natural choice for her outgoing, gregarious daughter, says Anjum, 51, of St. Charles, Ill.

“She was a mini-me,” Anjum tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “Very much an ‘I want-to-be-friends-with-everyone’ kind of girl. Brittany made friends very easily. And she loved life.”

Tiffany, a serious student who aced her AP classes, got a job at a local pet store to gain experience for a career working with animals.

“She thought about being a vet, but said, ‘I don’t want to put animals to sleep, mom,'” Anjum recalls.

“She loved dogs and animals,” says Anjum. “I think she loved animals more than people because she could sense that people could hurt her, but animals just love people unconditionally.”

Anjum loved her girls unconditionally and then some. But the sisters’ dreams — and Anjum’s dreams for their futures — were forever shattered by unimaginable tragedy.

On March 10, 2017, just four days before their 17th birthdays, their father, Randall, shot each sister in the head, killing them instantly.

Unhappy that he and Anjum were separating, Randall told her that their daughters were “already dead” before pointing the gun at Anjum’s legs.

“I want you to live — and suffer,” he sneered at her before pulling the trigger, shooting her with a single bullet that tore through both thighs.

“The second he shot me, I knew my girls were dead,” she says.

Randall then turned the gun on himself.

As the sole survivor of that dark day, Anjum has dedicated her life to keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.

“I want people to understand the gun laws are not there to take the guns away from people who need to protect themselves,” she says. “They’re actually there to stop the guns from getting into people’s hands like Randall.”

As a member of Everytown’s Survivor Network, Anjum is sharing her story to spotlight National Gun Violence Survivors’ Week from Feb. 1 through Feb. 7.

Started in February 2019, National Gun Violence Survivors Week honors the 58 percent of Americans who’ve reported that they’ve experienced gun violence firsthand — or that someone they care for has personally experienced gun violence, a recent national poll shows, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.

Anjum first joined Moms Demand Action in 2018 while struggling with the gaping hole left behind by her daughters’ senseless murders. She later became a member Everytown for Gun Safety’s Survivor Network, speaking to other members and publicly about her harrowing ordeal.

Her hope is to strengthen gun laws by extending waiting times to get a weapon, particularly if the purchaser has mental health issues or is in a volatile relationship.

Anjum Coffland with her twin daughters

In the month before Randall killed the girls, he’d been spiraling downward with a potent mix of alcohol and antidepressants.

He bought the gun he used to kill the girls and himself — the first one he ever purchased — about a month before the shooting, she says.

“I had no idea he bought a gun,” she says.

Years earlier, she learned, he had gotten his Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) card from the Illinois State Police, which residents must apply for to legally own firearms or ammunition.

“Then all of a sudden,” in 2017, “he’s asking for a gun,” says Anjum.

“Nobody said, ‘Why is he getting a gun now?” she asks. “He never got a gun before. No red flags were raised.”

She is also pushing for laws that would require anyone buying a gun to present references certifying that they aren’t dangerous, like Randall was.

“If he had put me down as a person to contact if he ever bought a gun, guess what I would have told them?” she asks. “I would have said, ‘We’re going through a divorce. Please do not give him a gun.'”

Anjum relies on her memories of Brittany and Tiffany to help her get through each day.

“I love my girls,” she says. “They were sweet, sweet kids. They were good kids. I miss them.”

Little has helped ease the pain of their deaths.

“The only way to make me feel like I’m going to be okay is by bringing my kids back,” she says. “And that will never happen.”