Aurora #TheaterShooting: Another very painful reminder about the fragility of life

In the aftermath of today’s horrific events in Aurora, CO which left 12 dead and close to 60 injured, Kathleen McKinley has written a beautiful post  in tribute to Jessica Ghawi, who went by the name @JessicaRedfield on Twitter.  Jessica was an aspiring sportscaster who lived in Denver and was one of the 12 killed in this morning’s brutal murders inside the Century 16 theater at a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.”

In addition to this morning’s senseless tragedy, what tears at your heart about Jessica’s murder is that Jessica was tweeting just minutes before her death while at the theater:

And her last Tweet:

And her last blog post, written over a month ago, will give you chills. She apparently had just escaped being a victim of the Eaton Center shootings in Toronto, which killed two:

I can’t get this odd feeling out of my chest. 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.

What started off as a trip to the mall to get sushi and shop, ended up as a day that has forever changed my life. I was on a mission to eat sushi that day, and when I’m on a mission, nothing will deter me. When I arrived at the Eaton Center mall, I walked down to the food court and spotted a sushi restaurant. Instead of walking in, sitting down and enjoying sushi, I changed my mind, which is very unlike me, and decided that a greasy burger and poutine would do the trick. I rushed through my dinner. I found out after seeing a map of the scene, that minutes later a man was standing in the same spot I just ate at and opened fire in the food court full of people. Had I had sushi, I would’ve been in the same place where one of the victims was found.

My receipt shows my purchase was made at 6:20 pm. After that purchase I said I felt funny. It wasn’t the kind of funny you feel after spending money you know you shouldn’t have spent. It was almost a panicky feeling that left my chest feeling like something was missing. A feeling that was overwhelming enough to lead me to head outside in the rain to get fresh air instead of continuing back into the food court to go shopping at SportChek. The gunshots rung out at 6:23. Had I not gone outside, I would’ve been in the midst of gunfire.


I was shown how fragile life was on Saturday. I saw the terror on bystanders’ faces. I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change. I was reminded that we don’t know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath. For one man, it was in the middle of a busy food court on a Saturday evening.

I say all the time that every moment we have to live our life is a blessing. So often I have found myself taking it for granted. 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 know I truly understand how blessed I am for each second I am given.

I feel like I am overreacting about what I experienced. But I can’t help but be thankful for whatever caused me to make the choices that I made that day. My mind keeps replaying what I saw over in my head. I hope the victims make a full recovery. I wish I could shake this odd feeling from my chest. The feeling that’s reminding me how blessed I am. The same feeling that made me leave the Eaton Center. The feeling that may have potentially saved my life.

Want to borrow some Kleenexes? A lot of us should own stock in them after today, especially the family members of those who lost their lives – like Jessica’s brother Jordan, who posted updates today as he found out what happened to his sister:


At approximately 0215 CST, I received an hysterical, and almost unintelligible, phone call from my mother stating that my sister, Jessica Ghawi, had been shot while attending the midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Denver, CO. I was able to contact the man that was with my sister, mutual friend Brent, who stated that they were in the theatre when an incendiary device was fired into the crowd and that shots rang out immediately afterwards. Brent further stated that he took two rounds and that my sister took one round followed by an additional round which appeared to strike her in the head. At this time, I do not have confirmation that she is alive or dead. Brent has been transported with non-life threatening injuries to a local hospital. I am on the next flight out of San Antonio to Denver and have already contact Aurora PD, operating jurisdiction, as next of kin.

I will update this as more information becomes available to me.


0510: NBC news reporting 14 confirmed fatalities and 50 wounded

0630: Flying solo on SWA flight 218 to Denver

0745 (local): In Denver and on the way to Aurora to see Brent in the hospital.

0830 (local): Arrived at Children’s Hospital of Denver to see the man who was with Jessica. Difficult time obtaining access to see him due to heightened security. He is stable after being shot at least once. He was able to relay what happened in the theatre.

1000 (local): I again want to thank everyone who has reached out to myself and my family. A few people I want to thank specifically: Rackspace, Vid Luther, Nan Palmero, City of Seguin Fire Department (for going to visit my mother and bringing her breakfast, and Peter Burns for acting as our family liaison.
1015 (local): This is what I have been told by Brent, who was with my sister at the time of the shooting. This will be the only statement that I will make on the events surrounding what appears to be her death.
Jessica and Brent were seated in the middle portion of the theatre when a device was thrown into the theatre that produced a “hissing” sound. The theatre than began to fill with smoke which is when patrons began to move from their seats. At that time, shots were fired. Brent and Jessica immediately dropped to a prone position for cover. Jessica advised multiple times for someone to call 911, which Brent immediately attempted to do. Brent then heard Jessica scream and noticed that she was struck by a round in the leg. Brent, began holding pressure on the wound and attempted to calm Jessica. It was at this time that Brent took a round to his lower extremities. While still administering first aid, Brent noticed that Jessica was no longer screaming. He advised that he looked over to Jessica and saw what appeared to be an entry wound to her head. He further stated that Jessica presented with agonal respirations. Brent then took what may have been his only chance to escape the line of fire and exited the structure where he then contacted my mother. Brent’s actions are nothing but heroic. The veracity of any other statements not issued by myself or Peter Burns should be questioned.

1055 (local): I have yet to be contacted directly from Aurora PD. After getting the runaround from APD, I was able to speak with someone within the department who states that the deceased have yet to been identified.

1118 (local): Have established a media “base camp” to act as a family PIO with Peter Burns in LoDo.

1227 (local): Have received word from the coroner’s office that Jessica has indeed died of injuries sustained in the shooting.

1315 (local): Established a temporary base camp at the local NBC affiliate with Peter Burns. Going to continue to give interviews until the victims names are remembered and not the coward of a shooter.

1405 (local): For those of you who may not know, my sister was also involved in the mass shooting at the Eaton Centre mall a little over one month ago. Her thoughts on the incident can be read here

Also, to show what type of person she was:

As Kathleen wrote:

In this digital age our thoughts live on after us. They leave a imprint on this world after we are gone. Words that tell us about who we are, what we care about, and how we live. It would do us all well to remember that as we sit at our keyboards. These words of her’s tell us so much about Jessica. They show us a person deeply understanding of a profound truth about life, and that is that we are to cherish it, and let go of the unimportant things that weigh us down. We are blessed to have this life, however long we have it. And we should embrace that “every second of every day,” because it is indeed a gift. She reminds us to love our family, hug them every chance you get. Her words tell us her wisdom. They reach out to us in a profound way. Many more will read her words than she ever imagined would.

We never know the things we leave behind, and what they will mean to people.

If you are reading this, know you are blessed with this life, right now. Close your eyes for a moment and realize it. Hold on to it. A grateful heart is chosen.

It is surreal that Jessica experienced this just last month in another city, in another country, and then came home to experience it again, but not survive this time. But her words give us profound guidance. None of us are promised tomorrow. As Jessica so wisely pointed out, every single day is a blessing. Let us never forget it. Let us wake up tomorrow knowing this, embracing this. Let us wake up every day after doing the same. I think Jessica would have loved for that to be her legacy.

To Jordan, I give you my deepest sympathies. May God comfort your family and you as you walk the saddest of roads.

This was a lesson we all re-learned after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, which had a profound impact on many – the victims and their families, of course, but also on millions of others who, before then, took each day here on earth for granted. I was in NYC on 9-11 and though I wasn’t at the WTC when the towers were hit, it impacted me in ways that still hit me especially hard whenever senseless acts like today’s Aurora murders happen. I wrote about it in 2004:

It would be an understatement to say that one of the events that changed all of our lives in a most major way was 9-11. As you all know, I was in NYC when 9-11 happened. The first plane struck at 8:46 a.m. and during that time, my friend and I were in Rockefeller Ctr laughing and joking and taking a few more pictures for what we thought was going to be our last day there. We’d no idea what had happened or what was yet to come. A little before 9, we were standing by the Today show studios, trying to get on TV. By 9:25 or so, we were eating breakfast at Roxy’s Delicatessen in Times Square. We’d made lunch plans with a friend for around noontime. Well, while we were sitting there eating breakfast, my cell phone rang once and went immediately into voice mail, which was odd. The little voice mail notification kept going off and it was bugging me. I thought it may be my friend having to cancel lunch plans with us. I went outside of Roxy’s to try to the voice mail. I couldn’t get any of the buttons to work, and was irritated a bit because as I was standing outside, all of these emergency vehicles were roaring by with their sirens going off. I thought to myself “Can I not go anywhere in this damn town without it being so loud?”

I didn’t know at the time that those emergency vehicles were headed to the WTC. I couldn’t get the ‘peace’ I desired because those vehicles were headed off to try to save people. I couldn’t hit the buttons on my phone to check my voice mail because the WTC had been hit and as a result just about all forms of phone communication had gone down. Shortly after, the WTC went down, too. I was riddled with guilt for months – I still feel it sometimes – for the petty things I let myself get irritated over. It was not a big deal I couldn’t check my voice mail. It wasn’t a huge deal that breakfast wasn’t so great. What was a big deal was what was going in Lower Manhattan. If only I’d known, I’d never have acted so petty over the little things that morning.

I also felt guilt because at the time me and my friend were sharing a few laughs at Rockefeller Center, or trying to get on the Today show, or walking by FoxNews studio, or eating breakfast, unbeknownst to us thousands of people had been murdered and thousands more injured in a senseless brutal attack on our soil. All I could think about at that time was how those people kissed their kids or spouses goodbye that a.m. not knowing they weren’t going to make it home. Those people did the same kinds of things we all do in the a.m. We chat for a few minutes by the watercooler with our coworkers, we check our email, we grab a cup of coffee, etc etc. While they were doing the most innocent of everyday things, their lives were ripped from them in a sick inhumane way. Thousands of kids lost their moms or dads, spouses lost their s/o, brothers lost sisters and vice versa, etc etc.

In the hectic world of everyday life, sometimes we don’t pause to appreciate the good in our lives: we don’t stop to give a loved one a hug, or a friend a comforting pat on the back, or our pets a little rub between the ears. And we spend too little time giving ourselves a break from the craziness of the world. Please take the time to tell your family and friends how much you appreciate them and show them often – because you never know when it might be your last time seeing them. I am by no means trying to sound fatalistic – in fact, I’m taking kind of a “Carpe Diem!” outlook here. Seize the day. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Take a drive with the top off the car. Let your hair down. Stop and smell the roses. And most importantly, tell the people who mean the most to you how much you care. Life is way too short to not live it and appreciate everything in it.

Can I get an “amen”?

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