The senseless violence that took place Friday in Aurora, Colo., still hits home for a lot of us out there, and I'm no different.
That movie theater is where my aunt and young cousin took in the Harry Potter movies and likely had plans to see the new Batman movie like so many others. That very same theater is where the whole hockey community lost one of their own.
By now we've all seen the numbers lost and some type of coverage one way or another of the shooting that claimed the lives of 12 people in that theater, so I won't go into the details. But you've also likely seen some coverage of one of those 12: a young NHL writer named Jessica Ghawi (aka Jessica Redfield).
This young woman was much more than a hockey writer—she was also my friend.
Looking a bit closer at things you might call Jessica and me casual acquaintances. But the truth is whenever you got a chance to talk to Jessica, be it in person or through a few exchanges on Twitter, you never felt like anything other than a good friend.
I first met Jessica at Avalanche training camp at the start of last season. After team events were done a large group of us went to the Noodles and Co. right across the street from the practice facility. That's where I first met this vivacious redhead from Texas.
Just looking at her from across the room was enough to make anybody smile, so you can imagine what a joy it was interacting with her.
We talked a brief time about what had brought her to Colorado and how much she was looking forward to her internship at a local radio station. We talked hockey and hit it off; it was impossible not to get along with this girl.
We ended up on the subject of player interviews when she shared a story of her first interview down in San Antonio, during which she wound up hitting the ice several times. She told me it was on YouTube and very casually sent me the link when I couldn't find it myself.
Some people might not be quite so eager to share what must have been quite an embarrassing moment, but Jessica was quite adept at laughing things off.
During this same conversation, several Avalanche players walked into the restaurant to get a quick bite before returning to practice, among them Shane O'Brien. Jessica immediately whispered to us about how a friend of hers would be so jealous if she got a picture with him.
It didn't take much convincing to get her to go up to him. When O'Brien turned around from getting his drink, there she was, waiting to greet him.
I didn't see a lot of her in person over the coming weeks as she jumped head-first into her internships. She made contacts with several people in the area, including Justin Goldman, who runs The Goalie Guild, and Adrian Dater, an Avalanche beat writer.
...she also had all of the grace and beauty of an ageless painting.
She flowed like vibrant paint on a pure white canvas, and her free spirit created surreal images that were too valuable to ever be sold. She had a natural presence and that made her naturally good at what she wanted to do.
Even the things she wasn't so great at she was eager to try—like skating.
Early in the season I participated in what has become a regular event in the hockey fan community in Denver. The Mile High Hockey vs. Avalanche Guild game.
We managed to get some time on the Pepsi Center ice before a game against the Los Angeles Kings, which turned out to be the first home win of the season for the Avalanche.
Jessica showed up with a bag and a stick, saying that she had been forced into playing by mutual friend and fellow Avalanche blogger Ryan Boulding.
Watching her on the ice, though, you wouldn't think that she had been forced into anything. Though the skating was anything but graceful, there was still a smile on her face and a vibrant laugh as she skated by the bench each time. She never missed a shift.
Most of my remaining interaction with Jessica was through Twitter. That girl had a knack for tweeting some fantastic photos.
From an adorable picture of her with her young nephew, to a personal picture minutes after participating in a massive tomato fight, when a picture tweet from @JessicaRedfield came up I was always eager to look.
My most memorable exchange with her on Twitter came shortly after she narrowly avoided the tragic shootout in the Eaton Centre in Toronto.
Thank God you're OK! I'm so glad you weren't hurt! Things I would love to be saying to her again right now.
She wrote a blog about her experience that was very moving.
I say all the time that every moment we have to live our life is a blessing. So often I have found myself taking it for granted. Every hug from a family member. Every laugh we share with friends. Even the times of solitude are all blessings. Every second of every day is a gift. After Saturday evening, I know I truly understand how blessed I am for each second I am given.
Even now, rereading her words hits me in the stomach like a ton of bricks. Reading how she never thought she'd be witness to a horrific act of violence. How we never know when our time on earth ends.
It makes me sick to my stomach to think what must have been going through her mind when that second horrific event began around her, and how it eventually ended her life.
Stories from around the community of hockey writers and fans started to pop up, especially around the Denver area, about the people that had the privilege of connecting with her, even for just a moment.
Friends wrote stories about their time with her. Projects they were working on or just memories that didn't seem to hold much significant meaning until their friend was wrenched away from them.
People who never met her, like Colin Daniels of SouthStandsDenver.com, wrote pieces all expressing the same things. How even though they hadn't met her, they still admired her and were drawn to her.
All that needs to be seen is the lines and lines of comments about what she meant to people.
That's what she was. No—is. That's what she is. Bright, passionate, energetic, vivacious, spunky, goofy, warm, sincere. A better combination inside a person you could not possibly find, yet all could be found inside Jessica.
She loved the world of hockey. She lived it and breathed it, and it's there where so many of us will continue to find her. Lying on the Avalanche logo at center ice after the game, bright red hair in a mess under her while smiling up at us.
A true work of art.