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Colorado theater shooting victims' families wait for news

Officials have not released names of those killed, but some relatives take to social media with their grief. Among the dead: an aspiring journalist who just escaped another shooting.

July 20, 2012|By Laura J. Nelson, Jenny Deam and Rick Rojas, Los Angeles Times
  • Eyewitness Jacob Stevens, 18, and his mother, Tammi Stevens, walk away after police interviewed Jacob about the Aurora, Colo., shootings. Other families waited for news.
Eyewitness Jacob Stevens, 18, and his mother, Tammi Stevens, walk away… (R.J. Sangosti, Denver Post )

AURORA, Colo. — Jessica Ghawi narrowly escaped a murderous rampage at a shopping center in Toronto last month, deciding to leave a food court where, moments later, a gunman killed two people and wounded six others.

The incident, and her narrow escape, deeply moved her.

"I was shown how fragile life was on Saturday," Ghawi wrote on her blog. "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."

In a wicked twist of fate, the aspiring sports journalist was killed Friday in an early morning massacre in a Colorado theater, along with at least 11 others, by a gunman wielding an assault-style rifle, a shotgun, a handgun and canisters of a noxious chemical. Police said 59 others were wounded.

Officials had not released names of the dead or wounded, but some relatives and friends stepped forward to identify a handful of victims, or used social media to convey their grief.

Ghawi — who went by the name Jessica Redfield professionally — had red hair and a gleam in her eye. She was in her early 20s, with a big heart and big plans, her friends said.

About a year ago, she moved to Denver from San Antonio to pursue her career, her brother, Jordan, told Denver TV station KUSA. She worked as an intern at 104.3 The Fan, a Denver sports radio station, which posted a tribute to her on its home page. She was also involved with the You Can Play Project, a gay-rights group that supports equality in the locker room.

Her friend Peter Burns, a sports radio host, told CNN that he recently met with Ghawi to discuss her idea to provide free sports equipment — especially hockey gear — to kids who had lost theirs in the Colorado wildfires.

"She wanted to help," said her brother. "That's the type of heart she had. That's the type of person she was."

On her blog, Ghawi's personality shone through. "I specialize in sports media and snark," she wrote. "Not your typical sarcastic feisty redhead attempting to perfect the trifecta of class, sass, and crass. Yankee born, Texas raised, Colorado blooming."

Hours before the midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises," Ghawi joked on Twitter that she'd had to "coerce" a guy into going with her. She was with her ex-boyfriend and good friend Brent Lowak, who was visiting from San Antonio, said Lowak's father, Larry. Brent Lowak was shot and underwent successful surgery, his father told a San Antonio TV station.

Jordan Ghawi, writing on his blog, gave an account of his sister's last moments after he spoke with Brent Lowak.

When shots rang out, Lowak and Jessica Ghawi immediately dropped to the floor, Jordan Ghawi wrote.

Lowak called 911, heard Ghawi scream and realized that she had been shot in the leg. He applied pressure to her wound but was soon shot himself.

"While still administering first aid, Brent noticed that Jessica was no longer screaming," Ghawi wrote. "He looked over to Jessica and saw what appeared to be an entry wound to her head."

Lowak made it outside and immediately called Ghawi's mother.

A short while later, Jordan Ghawi wrote, "I received an hysterical, and almost unintelligible, phone call from my mother stating that my sister, Jessica Ghawi, had been shot."

The wounded ranged from three months to 45 years old, according to hospitals. Most appeared to be teenagers and young adults.

A Navy sailor is believed to be among the dead.

Dabbing at wounds that ran in a dotted line from her upper thigh to her ankle, Patricia Legarreta, 24, recounted the terror she felt for her small children when the attack began.

She and her boyfriend, Jamie Rohrs, had taken their 4-month-old son and 4-year old daughter to the movie, thinking the kids would sleep through it. Badly wounded in the leg, she put a child on each hip and ran for the exit.

"I need to get out," she recalled thinking. "My kids are not going to die in here." Neither child was hurt.

As some families learned the fate of loved ones, others were caught in a terrible limbo, knowing a family member had been wounded but unable to find any information. In a midday press conference, police announced that 10 bodies remained inside the theater but did not release the names of the dead.

Greg Medek's youngest child, 23-year-old Micayla, was shot, but her friends were told by authorities to leave her in the theater, her relatives said. Her fate was not immediately known.

Cayla, as she liked to be called, worked at Subway and described herself on Facebook as "a simple, independent girl who's just trying to get her life together while still having fun."

Her aunt, Jenny Zakovich of South Milwaukee, Wis., said Micayla's friends told family members they tried to carry her out of the theater but were instructed to leave her.

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