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Jessica Ghawi's Family Wants Focus On Victims, Not Colorado Shooter

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Jessica Ghawi was killed early Friday morning in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.
Jessica Ghawi was killed early Friday morning in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.

When Peter Burns' cell phone rang at 2:15 a.m. Friday, he glanced at the caller ID with eyes blurred from sleep, and decided to ignore it.

It was Jordan Ghawi, a family friend. He figured he'd just call him back.

But at 5:15, his phone rang again. This time colleagues from a radio station where he used to work in San Antonio were calling to tell him his friend, and their former intern Jessica Ghawi had been killed the night before at a theater in Aurora, Colo.

At a midnight showing Friday of the latest Batman movie in Aurora, Colo., a gunman, identified by police as 24-year-old James Holmes, opened fire killing 12 people and wounding 58.

Burns, a local morning radio talk show host with Mile High Sports in Denver, had to make a decision: Call out of work, or go on the air. He decided to fill his show talking about his friend to take the focus off the shooter.

"I decided I'll do every single interview if it means we can't get this coward any airtime," Burns told The Huffington Post.

Ghawi's mother, back home in San Antonio, was already on the same page. She asked her son Jordan, and Burns to do as many interviews as they possibly could. "She wanted us to tell all of Jessica's stories," Burns said.

On Friday, they set up a "base camp" at a local NBC affiliate where they conducted a few satellite interviews. Then they went into a conference room and decided they needed to focus their interviews and talk about the victims -- and say nothing about the shooter.

By the end of Friday, they had done interviews with Anderson Cooper, Chris Matthews, Greta Van Susteren, Erin Burnett and "20/20," as well as others.

"We focused 100 percent on not only Jessica, but all of the victims," Burns said. "We talked about it, and we realized that whenever we looked at incidents like this, we remembered the shooters, but not the victims. In Columbine, we know the shooters, but we don't know the victims."

This time should be different, Burns said. He likened it to the decision by many sports networks to never air streakers who run onto the field during a game.

"People who rush the field on television, they're doing that for attention and to be on the news," he said. "By not giving them attention, why go do it? … A lot of people want to be a star and decide this is how they could be a star. But the star should've been Jessica or any of these other people. Not the coward who did this."

They left Denver and drove to Aurora to be interviewed in the media area set up near the theater.

"It was surreal to have the cinema as a back drop and know that our friend (and his sister) was still lying in the theater was ghastly," Burns said. "I was told that during the process, cell phones of the victims were still ringing from people trying to get in touch. Very tough."

They agreed to talk to anyone who asked. Despite their generosity with the media, one news producer got angry at Ghawi and Burns for double-booking two different shows on the same network. He demanded to know which show they were going to chose.

"It goes to show how jaded people get," he said. "Everyone's out to get scoops, but there's a human story going on here."

The Ghawi family is cutting back on interviews, saying they won't agree to any more after today for a while to give other victims' families a chance to take the spotlight. So far there have been seven victims, including Jessica Ghawi, identified. Some have issued statements asking for privacy. Others have asked extended family members or friends to speak to the media.

Burns is offering to help other families who may want to tell their stories figure out what they want to say. He's asking other victims' families to reach out to him via his Twitter account.

There is also a guide to handling the media provided by Justice Solutions available online.

After interviewing Ghawi, Cooper appeared to take his message to heart: "We'll tell all we know of suspect, but I'll try not to use his name much," Cooper tweeted. "History should remember those who died, not their killer."

Also on The Huffington Post

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