To quote Pastor Cline after the Las Vegas shootings “I am sick to my soul”. A church, movie theater, school, concert – these places should be safe, sacred, and protected. I refuse to believe that these behaviors are becoming “the new normal” These act of hatred are not normal and never will be. They are horrific. They are inexcusable. They are unforgettable.
Yesterday the largest mass shooting in Texas’ history took place. A 26-year old man began shooting from outside Sutherland Springs’ First Baptist Church church. As of this writing, there are 26 dead and more than 20 injured.
My heart goes out to the victims and their families. My heart goes out to the survivors and their difficult journey to recovery. My heart goes out to the families of the shooters, what a heavy burden they must carry. My heart goes out to the first responders who will forever have these images stored in their memories. My heart goes out to the bosses and co-workers who deal with the loss of a teammate. My heart breaks for everyone impacted by these acts of violence.
I will not speak the name of the evil and cowardly violators. I will speak praise and honor for the victims, survivors and first responders and those who loved them. For us, it is personal. For each time there is a new mass shooting, our own memories come rushing back. Every time I hear of another shooting, I am taken back to 2012. I have difficult sleeping. My mind is racing. I wish I could help.
On July 20, 2012, a 25-year old man went into Century 16 Movie Theater in Aurora, Colorado and opened fire of the patrons in the midnight showing of the “Dark Night” movie. When the rampage was over, 12 people were dead and more than 70 were injured. A woman who worked in my department as an intern at Altitude Sports, Jessica Ghawi, was among the dead. Here is my recount of that day and the months to follow.
Around 5am I was awakened by the phone. One of my producers was telling me about the shooting and asking me to verify a photo he had texted me. Tears burst from my eyes when I saw the face of a beautiful redhead. Yes, it was our Jessica. It broke my heart knowing that I would never see her again or hear her laughter or watch her work. She would never have the opportunity to follow her dream to become a hockey broadcaster.
I rushed into the office as I knew that my team needed me and quite frankly I needed them. I had never had to deal with anything like this and I didn’t know what to do. I called the President of our parent company KSE. I asked Jim for permission to call Jessica’s parents. He told me he trusted me to do the right thing. I called HR to get the number and to ask that they call in a crisis support team. I called Sandy and Lonnie Phillips to pay our respects. I asked Sandy if there was anything we could do for them. She said yes, we need your help with two things. Weeks before there were terrible wild fires in Colorado. Jessica wanted to get hockey equipment to the families who lost their homes. They wanted to start a scholarship for women in sports journalism. I said that I had no idea how to do these things but I would take care of it.
Now I had to focus on my team, Jessica’s co-workers and friends. They needed a leader. They needed comforting words. They needed compassion. They needed direction. They needed to share their memories of Jessie. Everyone was offered the opportunity to leave if they needed to. Some of them went home to grieve. Some wanted to stay with our TV family to grieve together. We had a live telecast that night. I changed the script for the pregame show to talk about Jessica, the victims and the community who were hurting. Basketball would wait for another day. Honoring our own was far more important.
In the early afternoon, I wanted to melt down. I wanted desperately to make a difference, to do something meaningful to help. I drove to the local blood center. As I arrived, they turned me away. There had already received hundreds of donations. With tears welling in my eyes, I said please take me. I have A- blood (single digit % type) and my intern was one of the dead, please let me help. He took my hand and led me to the chair. As the blood flowed from my veins, the tears poured down my face. This just couldn’t be happening. Who would intentionally do such a horrible thing? It didn’t make sense, and it never will.
Together as a team, we got through the telecast. We were all emotionally exhausted. We were all hurting. Our teammate was gone. Jessica’s high energy, and bright shining spirit would be missed. In life and in death, Jessie made a profound impact on all of us. Little did I know then, my world would be forever changed.
I called Kroenke Sports Enterprises VP of Community Relations. I asked Deb if she knew an organization that could help with hockey equipment. As fate would have it, earlier in the week, a non-profit group “A Precious Child” was there and they have a giveSPORTS program. Yes, Carina Martin and her team would help.
I called the Athletic Director at Metro State University (where Jessica was a student) to ask about the scholarship. Joan put me in touch with another department and within days we were in a meeting with the faculty. Yes, Matthew Brinton and Metro State would help.
Four weeks later, KSE and A Precious Child held a sports equipment drive at the Pepsi Center in Jessica’s honor. The local ABC station and several radio stations provided live coverage of the event. We raised more than $25,000 dollars and received more than 20,000 pieces of equipment and apparel. Many lives have been touched by this annual event. Information on A Precious Child and their giveSPORTS program can be found here. Later, I proudly served as Chairman of the Board for this great organization.
The scholarship for a woman in sports journalism or communication was created at the San Antonio Foundation, and it continues today. I am honored to be on the selection committee. For information on the Jessica Redfield Ghawi scholarship and how to apply, click here .
During the months to follow, I wanted the ability to show hundreds of women that careers in sports administration, journalism and television were possible. With the help of many talented people, we created such an event. In August 2013, Metro State hosted the “Women in Sports Expo”to honor Jessica. More than 500 people attended the half day event. We had four panels of highly respected women in the sports community speaking on: Behind the Scenes TV Production, TV and Radio Talent, Sports Administration, and Climbing the Corporate Ladder Wisely. It was a great event. I know that Jessica would have been proud of our work. She would have been on the front row. I know that we touched lives that day. Unfortunately, I was laid off from Altitude 3 days later, and the event was not held again.
Out of a senseless tragedy, we did many good things for children in need and young women in sports. Out of a tragedy, lifelong friendships were formed.
I refuse to allow these evil and deranged individuals who choose to deliberately harm others to damper my spirit or lower my faith in humanity. Yes, I am “sick to my soul” that these events are happening, and that they now happen so often. I refuse to become numb to the pain. I refuse to forget. I believe that the only way I can “save my soul” is to keep living, keep my faith in the good in others, and faith in God’s good grace.
Whether the damage is executed by planes, guns, bombs, or vehicles; sick and/or evil people are the problem. Please embrace love, hope, and kindness. Please speak up if someone or something doesn’t seem right. In doing so, you may be saving lives. My thoughts and prayers are with Sutherland Springs and every single person impacted by acts of violence. Let’s stand strong, together.
What can you do to help make our communities safer? How do you deal with these senseless tragedies?
…… And life goes on.