Her daughter is no more, one of 12 people killed more than a year ago now in the mind-numbing Aurora movie theater shooting. The heartache is relentless still, the sadness burrowing so deep that sometimes she must hide and cry and then wipe at the tears and try, somehow, to limp to the finish line of another day.
Jessica Ghawi was hit with six of the hundreds of rounds unleashed that night by a worthless man with a staggering amount of weaponry and ammunition. Six bullets from an AR-15 assault rifle. Two police officers loaded the 24-year-old redhead into a police cruiser and roared to University Hospital. Stunningly, she was still gasping, a tiger of a woman fighting hard to live. Her life had barely begun. There was so much to do.
But she died on the way to the hospital and her mother, Sandy Phillips, is here in our village this week, walking neighborhoods with her husband, Lonnie, the pair knocking on doors and talking to voters about this absolutely moronic recall election forced by the loud, far-right gun crazies that make our town such a special place.
They want to oust state Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo, both Democrats, and have forced a Sept. 10 special election — the first two legislators facing a recall in Colorado's 137-year history.
Why? Because they supported reasonable bills in the wake of the Aurora shooting and the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut. One limited the size of ammunition magazines. Another expanded background checks on gun sales. The third made buyers pay for those checks.
Immediately, the gun enthusiasts starting belching their arguments about Second Amendment rights. Most of them, as you know, are Constitutional scholars. And now, for backing laws a vast majority of Americans support, Morse and Giron must fight.
At a gathering of Morse supporters here a few days ago, Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia — a gun owner and hunter for 40 years — outlined the stakes: "This is an attempt to intimidate all elected officials, in Colorado and across the nation," he said. "The far-right fringe is saying, 'Don't mess with us.' We need to tell them not to mess with us."
So Sandy and Lonnie Phillips came here from their home in Texas to knock on doors and maybe change a mind or two. They scored last Friday in their first hour.
"A woman said she was undecided," said Sandy. "We told her who we are. We told her that we lost our daughter in the Aurora shooting. In a few minutes she said she'd made up her mind to vote no in the recall."
Sandy paused then, as she does often, her throat tight and her eyes red, before finishing with this: "Then the woman stepped out onto her front step and hugged us."
As I drove in the south end of our village to meet Jessica's parents last week, I stopped behind an old, battered pickup truck. It had two bumper stickers. One read, "The United States of America: In Guns We Trust." The other read, "Obama: The Reason Stupid People Shouldn't Vote."
Just so you know the territory.
For Sandy and Lonnie, the grief arrives regularly, hard punches to the stomach that leave them breathless. Out of nowhere. When Sandy and Jessica — a budding sports broadcaster in Denver — shopped together, they came up with a signal for use when they'd get separated. Jessica would whistle. Mom would whistle back. They'd find each other and laugh.
"I was in Macy's in San Antonio last week and someone whistled," Sandy said. "A moment later someone answered with another whistle. I had to go into the dressing room to cry."
Today, and every day until the election, the couple with the shattered hearts will knock on our doors and try to talk to us. Frankly, they don't know what else to do with their lives anymore since a sorrowful man with unrestricted access to guns filled a movie theater with bullets.
When you lose a child, especially like that, you don't ever come all the way back.
"It seems like yesterday," Sandy said, quietly. "And it seems like forever."
Rich Tosches (email@example.com) also writes a Sunday column in the Denver Post.
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