Aurora Theater Shooting Victim Honored by Sports Drive

The giveSPORTS Equipment Drive honors Aurora theater shooting victim Jessica “Redfield” Ghawi. (Photo via The New York Times)

The giveSPORTS Equipment Drive honors Aurora theater shooting victim Jessica “Redfield” Ghawi. (Photo via The New York Times)

On its face, the giveSPORTS Equipment Drive is just another charitable effort to help kids gain access to luxuries that are not available to everyone. The sports equipment collected by the drive is generally used, but is still in good enough condition that kids can use it without complaint. Even items that have suffered a little more wear and tear than others are still usually functional enough that they are better than nothing. What you might not know, however, is that the giveSPORTS Equipment Drive is not your standard sports drive at all. In fact, it is a tribute to Aurora theater shooting victim Jessica Ghawi.

This is not one of our typical stories. The last time we covered children’s athletics, we were talking about participation trophies. Before that, we were talking about talented young women in baseball such as Melissa Mayeux. This is a story about how, for years following the 2012 Aurora theater shooting, sports have helped to touch people’s lives.

Details of the Aurora Theater Shooting

As more and more details surfaced about the Aurora theater shooting, there was increasing public demand for James Holmes to receive the death penalty. He’s only alive today because a single juror dissented. (RJ Sangosti/Reuters)

As more and more details surfaced about the Aurora theater shooting, there was increasing public demand for James Holmes to receive the death penalty. He’s only alive today because a single juror dissented. (RJ Sangosti/Reuters)

The Aurora theater shooting in 2012 was, to put it lightly, an absolute tragedy. For those who have somehow escaped knowledge of this tragic event, the name is a reference to the setting of Aurora, Colorado. This is where James Eagan Holmes entered a Century 16 movie theater during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises and planted himself in the audience. He left 20 minutes in. When he came back, he was dressed from head to toe in tactical gear, including a ballistic helmet, gas mask, throat protector, load-bearing vest, gloves, groin protection, and leggings. He then threw in what many assumed to be two smoke canisters, part of a possible prank or publicity stunt.

That was when things took a turn for the worse. Holmes was prepared. In fact, police would later discover that he had actually rigged his own apartment with homemade explosives for when the police discovered his identity. But for the time being, his preparation had been geared toward unleashing terror upon the patrons of the theatre. The audience soon discovered that what he had thrown were not mere smoke canisters, but rather tear gas grenades. Those affected by the gas could not see Holmes as he pulled the first of three deadly firearms and aimed it at the ceiling before ultimately turning it on the crowd. The Aurora theater shooting had begun.

Holmes then opened fire with a shotgun, a semi-automatic rifle, and a .40-caliber handgun. When all was said and done, ten were dead and about seventy more were injured. Two more died of their wounds at the local hospital. A story published by PBS this past April referred to the eighty-two total casualties of the Aurora theater shooting as “the largest number of casualties from one shooting on American soil.”

Charging Holmes for the Aurora theater shooting presented prosecutors with some difficult legal strategies. Holmes confessed to the crimes, but he pleaded guilty by reason of insanity. To try and ensure a conviction, the prosecutors actually attempted to charge him twice for each casualty. This is rather complex, but the simple explanation is that one charge focused more on the element of premeditation. The prosecutors wanted two shots at having Holmes convicted, so that they could ultimately seek capital punishment. While Colorado had only made use of the death penalty one time since 1976, they felt that there was cause for execution due to the particularly heinous nature of the crimes.

Ultimately, the jurors rejected the insanity plea. Holmes was found guilty of the Aurora theater shooting on all counts. Since the prosecutors had sought two counts for every transgression, this meant that he was charged 24 times with first-degree murder for each of the 12 fatalities, as well as 140 counts of attempted murder for each of the 70 injuries. He also received charges for his use of explosives. With a verdict reached, all that remained was sentencing. In Colorado, a unanimous decision must be reached in order for the courts to impose a sentence of capital punishment. Out of 12 jurors, 11 agreed to sentence Holmes to death. It only took a single dissenting vote to prevent the death penalty from being served.

On August 26 of this year, Holmes was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole with a dozen life sentences and more than three thousand additional years between the other charges. Between the victims and their families, the Aurora theater shooting left behind many victims, ranging from the mere age of 6 to the age of 51. Among them was 24-year-old Jessica Ghawi. She is the reason that we are discussing this story today.

Why Honor Her with Sports Equipment?

The giveSPORTS Equipment Drive is a somewhat broader reimagining of Jessica Ghawi’s own idea. (Photo via ColoradoMammoth.com)

The giveSPORTS Equipment Drive is a somewhat broader reimagining of Jessica Ghawi’s own idea. (Photo via ColoradoMammoth.com)

Like all victims, Jessica Ghawi is certainly worthy of being remembered. A bright young women with an infectious smile and a deeply impassioned love for friends and family, her life was just getting started when Holmes abruptly brought it to an end. After receiving six gunshot wounds, she was transferred immediately to the nearest medical facility, University Hospital. Unfortunately, it was too late. Following her arrival at the hospital, Jessica Ghawi was pronounced dead. Like eleven other fatalities that night. Her death was a true tragedy. But why is it honored through a charity drive for sports equipment?

To understand the inspiration behind the giveSPORTS Equipment Drive, you have to know a little more about Jessica Ghawi. Or, to be more precise, you have to know more about Jessica Redfield. This was the pseudonym that Ghawi used as a sports journalist. It was her grandmother’s maiden name, and honored the fact that her grandmother had wanted to go into journalism prior to the Second World War. From a more pragmatic point of view, Ghawi also felt that it would be an easier name for audiences to accept as she began her broadcasting career.

As Jessica Redfield, Ghawi reported primarily on the Colorado Avalanche. She covered hockey for the local sports radio station The Fan 104.3, as well as for a number of blogs. She also assisted Denver television network Altitude Sports with some of their production work. Not even a quarter of a century old at the time of the Aurora theater shooting, Jessica Redfield was already making a name for herself. In fact, it was due to her growing recognition that her parents believe they were among the first parents to learn of their child’s fate that night. It hit the rumor mill that local journalist Jessica Redfield was among the victims of the Aurora theater shooting, and her parents received confirmation not long after.

The summer after the 2012 Aurora theater shooting, A Precious Child and Kroenke Sports Charities held the first official giveSPORTS Equipment Drive in Ghawi’s honor. According to A Precious Child executive director Britta Robinson, “[Jessica] was interested that same summer in collecting equipment for families that had lost everything in the wildfires that year. And so, giveSPORTS was a national program that fit with that need, and today, Jess’s legacy lives on in the thousands of kids we’ve been able to help.”

The aforementioned wildfires were particularly devastating. A series of fourteen wildfires spread through Colorado, covering at least fifteen thousand acres and causing the evacuation of well over thirty thousand residents. In terms of loss of life, the wildfires were not too devastating. In fact, there were only half as many fatalities from the wildfires as there were from the Aurora theater shooting. There were multiple causes of the fires, including dry thunderstorms and arson. While there were not many deaths, there were still many families who lost just about everything. Ghawi was not the kind of person who could simply accept that if she felt there was a way to better their circumstances.

Not everyone benefitted by the giveSPORTS Equipment Drive was a victim of the 2012 Colorado wildfires. This was merely one facet of Ghawi’s dream before she was gunned down during the Aurora theater shooting. In fulfilling her legacy, giveSPORTS has provided gently used athletic equipment to many underprivileged children. While many of them are living in and around Denver, they hail from all over the country. For instance, Latoshia Jackson and her seven children were originally from a gang-ridden neighborhood in Memphis. Their story is a prime example of the type of wide reach that Ghawi’s legacy has had.

How Successful Is the Equipment Drive?

The giveSPORTS Equipment Drive draws numerous Colorado sports celebrities, such as Matt Duchene (not pictured), the Denver Nuggets Dancers, and the Avs Ice Girls. (A Precious Child/Facebook)

The giveSPORTS Equipment Drive draws numerous Colorado sports celebrities, such as Matt Duchene (not pictured), the Denver Nuggets Dancers, and the Avs Ice Girls. (A Precious Child/Facebook)

Since the giveSPORTS Equipment Drive began after the Aurora theater shooting, it has generated enough new and gently used equipment to provide athletic recreation to thousands of underprivileged youths living in and around the Denver metro area. In fact, in the past three years, the sports drive has managed to help more than seven thousand such youths. This averages out to more than two thousand kids per year. This would not be possible without the numerous volunteers who show up to help, including the parents of Jessica “Redfield” Ghawi herself.

Literally hundreds of donors showed up this year, to support the cause initiated by one of the more well-known victims of the Aurora theater shooting. Within the first two years, the giveSPORTS Equipment Drive had already collected over forty thousand individual pieces of athletic equipment to give to needy kids. In addition to this high number, they had collected thirteen thousand dollars in funding which was put toward a scholarship program for those who could not afford athletic registration fees without financial aid. Last year, ten thousand dollars were generated for this same scholarship, as well as a grand total of twenty-five thousand pieces of athletic equipment.

The numbers are not yet in for this year’s drive, which was sponsored by IHOP and held at the Pepsi Center. Even so, A Precious Child’s Facebook wall shows numerous pictures of the event, including pictures of select Denver Nuggets Dancers as well as multiple pictures of Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene (who met Jessica Ghawi in person while she was working as an aspiring journalist). Even without the numbers, we can surmise that they had a successful year. In fact, the day before the drive even started, A Precious Child posted a picture showing fourteen large bins of equipment that had been donated to their cause.

The giveSPORTS Equipment Drive grew out of a tragedy. The Aurora theater shooting drew attention to Jessica Ghawi, and her dream of providing sports equipment to those in need became a reality. Needless to say, this does not lessen the tragedy at all. What it does do, however, is demonstrate that sports are about more than just competition and ego. Denver’s local sports celebrities were able to band together for a common cause, just so that needy children might have a healthy form of recreation made available to them. True athleticism is always at its strongest when imbued by the fire and passion of the human spirit. In the wake of the Aurora theater shooting, the passion of Jessica Ghawi was honored in extraordinary fashion. In this respect, the giveSPORTS Equipment Drive has been successful on many fronts.

What You Can Do to Help Contribute

Any time you donate athletic equipment in the spirit of Jessica Ghawi, whether or not you are donating to giveSPORTS specifically, you have done something to contribute to her cause. (Erin Hull/Denver Post)

Any time you donate athletic equipment in the spirit of Jessica Ghawi, whether or not you are donating to giveSPORTS specifically, you have done something to contribute to her cause. (Erin Hull/Denver Post)

Just because you missed the giveSPORTS Equipment Drive does not mean that you cannot contribute to Ghawi’s cause. A Precious Child’s giveSPORTS program is always accepting donations, which can be made at the official giveSPORTS website. The giveSPORTS program runs for a couple of weeks prior to the drive, and the organization provides materials to anyone who wants to host their own drive during that time. This means that anyone who wants to do more than make a simple donation can actually plan to host their own drive next year, as long as they check in with the website and contact A Precious Child for more information on how a drive is properly hosted.

Since giveSPORTS does not accept sports equipment year-round (although A Precious Child is always accepting donations), there are some who may not feel as if they are able to give in the spirit of Jessica Ghawi’s legacy if they have missed the equipment drive. That said, the art of charitable giving was not invented in the wake of the Aurora theater shooting. If you really want to honor Jessica Ghawi’s legacy, you can do so by making a charitable donation of athletic equipment to relevant charities at any time of year. We have to imagine that she wouldn’t exactly be disappointed.

Athletics are important. They keep kids healthy, and they help keep them social. Latoshia Jackson, who we mentioned earlier, said that gangs in Memphis had been attempting to initiate her children before they moved to Denver. Luckily, athletic opportunities such as those provided by giveSPORTS can help give kids a sense of fraternity that will not ruin their lives or put them behind bars. It is not fair that Jessica Ghawi had to perish in the Aurora theater shooting. But through her charitable legacy, and through the power and camaraderie of sports and athleticism, many lives can be saved from reaching a premature end on the streets.

And who knows? One of the kids helped by giveSPORTS just might make the big leagues one day. There is no telling how much good might come from the sports drive hosted annually in Ghawi’s honor. We can only hope that whatever good arises from A Precious Child’s efforts is doing justice to the dream she had in mind. So if you can contribute a few dollars to their cause, or drop a few old baseball gloves off at a local charity, then make sure you do so. Because sports are more than just a way for bettors to make a few extra bucks. Sports play a vital role in our children’s physical and social health. They are an integral part of our wealth and well-being as a nationwide community. In a world that has suffered tragedies such as the Aurora theater shooting, it is important that we keep such well-being maintained.