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Palestinian-American among theater shooting victims

July 24, 2012 8:26 P.M. (Updated: July 26, 2012 12:00 P.M.)
By: George Hale
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- A young woman who was killed in a mass shooting at a US movie theater had family ties to Jerusalem, relatives and Palestinian officials said Tuesday.

Jessica Ghawi, a Palestinian-American, and 11 others died early Friday after an armed man opened fire at moviegoers in a crowded Colorado cinema. The 24-year-old aspiring journalist suffered a fatal gunshot wound to the head, according to a witness.

Media in Lebanon had misidentified Ghawi as an American of Lebanese descent after police included her on a list of victims. The name is not uncommon in Lebanon, but her brother Jordan Ghawi says his family is Palestinian.

“My father is an Arab Christian from Palestine,” he told Ma’an late Tuesday.

Jessica’s family “has huge ties” to Jerusalem, and particularly to its historic YMCA, Jordan says. He was last in the country in 2004 to attend his grandmother’s funeral.

Their dad, Nick Ghawi, is a Jerusalem native who settled in Texas, where Jessica grew up. She lived in San Antonio most of her life until moving a year ago to the Denver area to pursue a career in broadcast sports journalism. She started going by her other grandmother’s name, Redfield, after concluding that her Palestinian last name might be tough for American audiences to pronounce.

Redfield is also the name she used on Twitter, where she joked with friends hours ahead of the midnight screening of a new Batman film. “Never thought I'd have to coerce a guy into seeing the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises with me,” she wrote.

That guy, Brent Lowak, would witness Jessica’s death but not before being shot himself while trying to administer first aid for a gunshot to her leg.

Lowak “attempted to calm Jessica. It was at this time that Brent took a round to his lower extremities,” Jordan said in an initial statement. “While still administering first aid, Brent noticed that Jessica was no longer screaming. … he looked over to Jessica and saw what appeared to be an entry wound to her head.”

Lowak is expected to make a full recovery after a series of surgeries. His actions that night, according to Jordan, were “nothing but heroic.”

The Palestinian mission in Washington, meanwhile, says it is mourning all the victims.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to Aurora. We mourn the loss of all of the lives, including Palestinian Jessica Ghawi," the general delegation of the PLO to the US wrote on Twitter and Facebook.

Spokesman Dorgham Abusalim told Ma’an that Palestinian diplomats were in contact with Ghawi’s relatives and in the process of drafting a letter to the family.

Due to her presence online, and Jordan’s continuously updated blog, Jessica was identified before the police had released the other victims’ names.

Over her brother’s protests, she became the public face of the victims.

“You have all brought Jessica’s story forward,” he said in a note thanking several US broadcasters, but adding, “We can only hope that we can do the same with the rest of the victims.”

The spotlight on Ghawi is also the result of her surviving another terrifying ordeal only a month earlier. While visiting her hockey player boyfriend in Toronto, a gunman at a mall food court shot five people; Ghawi escaped moments before the shooter opened fire. Two people died.

On her blog, she recalled experiencing 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.”

After watching some of the injured, including a young boy, being carried into ambulances, Ghawi felt nauseous. “Who would go into a mall full of thousands of innocent people and open fire? Is this really the world we live in?”

She added: “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.”

Ghawi is to be buried in her hometown on Saturday.

On Monday the suspected Colorado shooter, James Holmes, made an initial court appearance. He is expected to be formally charged with Friday’s killings on July 30.

More than a dozen of the victims remain hospitalized.
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