Sports journalist among Colorado victims

— I didn't know Jes­sica Ghawi, but I un­der­stand what made her tick. I un­der­stand why she blindly pur­sued her pas­sion of sports journ­al­ism. Most of all, I un­der­stand what made her spe­cial.


“This empty, al­most sick­en­ing feel­ing won’t go away. I no­ticed this feel­ing when I was in the Eaton Cen­ter in Toronto just seconds be­fore someone opened fire in the food court. An odd feel­ing which led me to go out­side and un­know­ingly out of harm’s way. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around how a weird feel­ing saved me from be­ing in the middle of a deadly shoot­ing.” – Jes­sica Ghawi, in a June 5 blog post

I did not know Jes­sica Ghawi, but part of me feels like I’ve known her my whole life.

Which is why her passing has hit me so hard, like an un­ex­pec­ted left hook to the jaw that lingers long after the ini­tial blow. I see my­self in her, and the sim­il­ar­it­ies ap­pear eer­ie on the sur­face, from be­ing young, pas­sion­ate twenty-something sports journ­al­ists with big dreams all the way down to our love for movies and dis­tinct­ive red hair.

Though I didn’t know Jes­sica Ghawi, one of 12 in­no­cent people gunned down early Fri­day morn­ing in an Au­rora, Colo., movie theat­er, I still feel like I’ve lost a close friend.

Ob­vi­ously, what happened at last week’s mid­night screen­ing of The Dark Knight Rises in sub­urb­an Den­ver has cut us all deeply. The act it­self oc­curred al­most two thou­sand miles away, but the sub­sequent feel­ings of help­less­ness and dread have been in­es­cap­able.

I was one of thou­sands of people na­tion­wide who flocked to the mul­ti­plex at 12:01 a.m. Fri­day to see the fi­nal chapter of Chris­toph­er No­lan’s wildly suc­cess­ful Bat­man tri­logy. It was something I had waited four years for, and, like mostly every­one else, I was ex­cited enough to sac­ri­fice sleep for the com­ing work­day to be among the first to see it.

Then, around 9 a.m., I learned of the shoot­ing, and my groggy, sleep-de­prived brain began its un­suc­cess­ful at­tempt to un­der­stand why and how this could have happened. My ini­tial emo­tions were pre­dict­able: shock, an­ger, sad­ness and fear. But there was also something else I didn’t quite ex­pect — a genu­ine thank­ful­ness to be alive.

What is most fright­en­ing about what happened in Au­rora, a bur­geon­ing com­munity of more than 325,000 people a few miles east of Den­ver, is the ran­dom­ness of it. Sure, the theat­er is close in prox­im­ity to Littleton, Colo., the site of the 1999 Columbine school shoot­ing, but in the grand scheme of things this is merely co­in­cid­ent­al. The fact re­mains that this could have happened to any of us in any city, so we’re all vic­tims in a sense.

Sus­pec­ted gun­man James Holmes’ motives re­main un­known. The ques­tion of how a seem­ingly gif­ted young man could com­mit such an un­speak­able crime is something we may nev­er un­der­stand, and it’s a dif­fer­ent ar­gu­ment for an­oth­er day. Now, and for the fore­see­able fu­ture, our fo­cus should be on the vic­tims, their fam­il­ies and the sur­viv­ors, be­cause really, they’re just like all of us.

The death toll in­cludes a 26-year-old Nav­al of­ficer and fath­er of two. An 18-year-old re­cent high school gradu­ate. A 51-year-old fath­er see­ing the movie with his teen­age daugh­ters. An em­ploy­ee of the Cen­tury 16 theat­er where the shoot­ing took place cel­eb­rat­ing his 27th birth­day and one-year wed­ding an­niversary. A 6-year-old girl with an en­tire world still ahead of her. These are just a few of the dozen fatal­it­ies, most of them young and all of them in­no­cent. As movie-go­ing Amer­ic­ans, we can identi­fy with all of these people. I know I can.

The death of 24-year-old Jes­sica Ghawi has rattled me in un­ima­gin­able ways, es­pe­cially on the eve of my 26th birth­day. Just like me, Ghawi had de­cided to de­vote her life to break­ing in­to the cut­throat, un­for­giv­ing sports journ­al­ism busi­ness. Of­ten times, es­pe­cially at the out­set of such a ca­reer, it is a jour­ney filled with re­jec­tion. It’s not easy to hear the word “no” when chas­ing the one (and in my case, only) thing you’ve ever been truly pas­sion­ate about. I sus­pect that this is why people like Jes­sica and my­self con­tin­ue to push on­ward des­pite get­ting dirt kicked in­to our faces while try­ing to es­tab­lish ourselves.

But noth­ing ever worth hav­ing comes eas­ily, and as sports journ­al­ists (and hu­man be­ings in gen­er­al), we un­der­stand this. Ghawi be­lieved in her­self and be­lieved in her abil­it­ies, which is why she up­rooted her life in her nat­ive Texas to move to Den­ver to break in­to the busi­ness. After a suc­cess­ful in­tern­ship at a sports-talk ra­dio sta­tion in San Ant­o­nio, she had re­cently se­cured press cre­den­tials to cov­er the Na­tion­al Hockey League’s Col­or­ado Ava­lanche. Her dream was just start­ing out be­fore she was robbed of it.

This ca­reer of­ten forces you to make per­son­al sac­ri­fices, and Ghawi un­der­stood that, just as I do. My own ca­reer has been just as un­pre­dict­able, with stops in Long Is­land, Vir­gin­ia and Texas be­fore be­ing di­ver­ted back to my nat­ive North­east Phil­adelphia. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to quit when re­jec­tion made me doubt my own abil­it­ies; but I pressed on, know­ing that the even­tu­al pay­off would make the struggles worth it. So far, it has been.

It makes me tre­mend­ously sad to put all of this in per­spect­ive in the wake of Ghawi’s death, as well as the 11 oth­ers who have lost their lives. All of the vic­tims de­served to pur­sue what made them hap­pi­est, just like every single one of us do.

I didn’t know Jes­sica Ghawi, but I bet that we would have been friends. We’re too much alike not to have been if our paths had ever crossed. I nev­er met her, but I un­der­stand what made her tick. I un­der­stand why she blindly pur­sued her pas­sion. Most of all, I un­der­stand what made her spe­cial.

As a res­ult, I feel a cer­tain re­spons­ib­il­ity to Ghawi, to carry on her leg­acy by mak­ing sure that I nev­er take my own abil­it­ies for gran­ted. It may sound silly, but the only way to make sure Holmes doesn’t win is to re­mem­ber the vic­tims for their pas­sions and am­bi­tions. Those who lost their lives will nev­er get to see the end to their stor­ies, but that shouldn’t stop us from ap­proach­ing our own lives with a new­found ap­pre­ci­ation. This in­cludes be­ing true to our dreams, lov­ing our fam­il­ies and friends, and not let­ting lost souls like Holmes force us to live in fear.

Per­haps the most cruelly iron­ic factor sur­round­ing Ghawi’s death is that just one month earli­er, she had es­caped an­oth­er gun­man’s ram­page at a Toronto shop­ping mall. She later re­coun­ted that a sud­den, un­ex­plain­able feel­ing of dread forced her to leave the mall just be­fore the shoot­er star­ted fir­ing. She wrote on her blog on June 5 that she didn’t know why she had left, and was strug­gling with why she had been spared when oth­ers were hurt. It con­fused her, but Ghawi seemed ready and will­ing to ap­pre­ci­ate every day she was giv­en there­after.

Un­for­tu­nately, she only re­ceived about an­oth­er six weeks. On her blog, Ghawi wrote of an “empty, sick­en­ing feel­ing that won’t go away,” which is what we’re all feel­ing in the shoot­ing’s af­ter­math.  But she also wrote of the fra­gil­ity of life and how she, like all of us, some­times took its many bless­ings for gran­ted.

The in­cid­ent in Toronto changed Ghawi, and she wrote that we should all ap­pre­ci­ate the time we are giv­en, even in try­ing mo­ments when the walls seem to be clos­ing in around us.

“Every hug from a fam­ily mem­ber. Every laugh we share with friends. Even the times of solitude are all bless­ings. Every second of every day is a gift. After Sat­urday even­ing, I truly un­der­stand how blessed I am for each second I am giv­en,” she wrote.

This whole mess is heart­break­ing, but I won’t for­get Ghawi’s pas­sion or the beauty of her am­bi­tion any­time soon. I will do my best to al­ways carry it with me, be­cause she and the oth­er vic­tims de­serve that much from all of us. ull;•

Sports ed­it­or Ed Mor­rone can be reached at 215-354-3035 or em­or­

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