Jessica Ghawi pursued her dreams without inhibition. That ended too soon when the 24-year-old sportswriter was killed by a bullet fired in a movie theater outside Denver on Friday morning. For Ghawi, who covered sports for numerous media outlets in Colorado and her native San Antonio under the name Jessica Redfield, it was the second such shooting she had faced in a matter of weeks. In June, she was present when a gunman opened fire at a mall in Toronto.
Ghawi wrote about that experience in a blog post that gained new resonance on Friday. “I can’t get this odd feeling out of my chest,” she wrote in the entry posted June 5. “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.” Two people died and several more were injured in the June 2 shooting at Toronto’s Eaton Centre mall.
While police have not yet identified the other victims of the cinema shooting in Aurora, Colo., Ghawi’s family came forward early Friday to confirm reports that she was among the deceased. Those who knew her spoke of her irrepressible character, her good humor, and her love of sports.
Ghawi was sending tweets right up until the time she sat down in the movie theater, including several to New York sportswriter Jesse Spector. The scribe for Sporting News befriended Ghawi after exchanging messages with her online, he told The Daily Beast. Even though they only met twice, Spector says Ghawi left an indelible impression.
“She asked me for some advice of one kind or another about dealing with issues as a young journalist, and I was glad to be able to help her out in that respect,” Spector said. “She was somebody who very clearly made an impact on the lives of people that she came in touch with, even if it was on a small or limited basis. You know it’s staggering just how much reach one person can have.”
Spector saw Ghawi a week ago in Toronto, when he went out for an evening with her and her boyfriend.
“It’s a memory I’ll think of certainly in a different way,” he said.
Marco Cerino, a sportscaster for Connecticut’s Danbury Whalers hockey team, met Ghawi when her boyfriend, hockey player Jay Meloff, played his first game for the minor league Whalers in January this year. Ghawi was there with Meloff’s parents to cheer the Canadian player on.
“They were in love and you could see it,” Cerino said. He described Meloff, who was nicknamed “Meatloaf” by his teammates, as “a sweet guy, kind of goofy.”
Veteran San Antonio sports announcer Mike Lavender said he got to know Ghawi when she was interning at Ticket760, a local sports radio station where he did game announcing.
“She just loved sports,” Lavender said of the girl he thought of at first as nothing more than just another intern. “Then as we became friends, I saw that she really, truly had this passion for sports, you know. Some girls like sports just to be cool or to get guys to dig them, but she had it down.”
Most important, Lavender said, Ghawi was willing to work hard and start from the bottom rung of the sportscaster’s ladder.
“She had a passion for hockey,” Lavender said. “She was smart enough to know she’d get more coverage interviewing minor-league teams. She got access to do interviews, she got access to go downstairs for media stuff. I got to see her at lots of games, and we developed this special relationship.”
Ghawi’s perseverance paid off, as she moved swiftly from the San Antonio sports market to Denver, Lavender said.
“Paying her dues like that, working her way up—she never tried to shortcut anything,” Lavender said. “She was the kind of person that could make a contact, and her first impression was always a good one.”
“She wasn’t making a lot of money,” Lavender said. “She was finding time not just for her career, but for love and for giving back.”
It’s this last part of Ghawi’s life—the efforts she made to spread her love of sports to others—that hits Lavender hardest in memory.
“One thing that really kills me, that really makes me truly sad, is that a couple weeks ago she sent me a message that she was working on getting together sporting equipment for families that lost their belongings in the fires in Colorado,” Lavender said. He’s not sure how much sporting equipment Ghawi was able to collect before she died, but he never got to tell her what he was ready to pitch in—$3,500 worth of gear, courtesy of the Los Angeles Kings.
“She knew sports can bring us joy and heal,” Lavender said.
After Lavender heard the news Friday morning, he pulled out his cell phone and reread messages from Ghawi he had saved. “To see her name pop up on my phone was always just a great conversation,” he said. “She was just amazing. We just spoke last week and I went back and pulled up the texts on my phone and I was just laughing and crying at the same time.”