EXCLUSIVE: When Jessica Ghawi's mom got the 1am call in July 2012 she was sure it was her 24-year old raving about The Dark Knight Rises. But it was the agonizing news her girl was gone she reveals, as Aurora massacre trial begins

  • In the seconds before his high capacity 100 round magazine jammed, James Holmes killed 12 people and injured 70 others
  • Jessica Ghawi, a 24-year-old aspiring sports reporter, was so excited about going to see The Dark Knight Rises at the Aurora theater that evening
  • Sandy and Lonnie Phillips learned their precious daughter had been shot six times and had 15 other shrapnel wounds 
  • They will be in the courtroom for the trial which begins in Colorado today
  • Holmes, called The Joker because of his bizarre appearance the night of the massacre, faces the death penalty if convicted

When Sandy Phillips phone rang she thought it was her daughter Jessica calling from the midnight screening of the Batman film 'The Dark Knight Rises'.

Instead of hearing her 24-year-old daughter's voice all she could hear were screams and wails of terror in the background.

Seconds passed before she heard the words 'There's been a shooting at the movie theater. Jessica's been shot.'

Feeling the panic rising and struggling to contain her emotions, Sandy asked one simple question: 'Is she dead?'

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Life cut short: Jessica Ghawi was excited about going to see The Dark Knight Rises at the Aurora theater that night, says her mother, who spoke with her earlier that evening. When the phone rang at 1am she was sure is was her daughter calling to rave about the movie. Instead, it was the call no mother wants to receive

Life cut short: Jessica Ghawi was excited about going to see The Dark Knight Rises at the Aurora theater that night, says her mother, who spoke with her earlier that evening. When the phone rang at 1am she was sure is was her daughter calling to rave about the movie. Instead, it was the call no mother wants to receive

Grieving: Sandy Phillips and her husband Lonnie will be forced to relive the dreadful events of July 20, 2012 as James Holmes' trial on multiple murder counts for the shooting in Aurora, Colorado begins today

Grieving: Sandy Phillips and her husband Lonnie will be forced to relive the dreadful events of July 20, 2012 as James Holmes' trial on multiple murder counts for the shooting in Aurora, Colorado begins today

Twisted: James Holmes, called The Joker because of his bizarre appearance the night of the massacre, faces the death penalty if convicted and lawyers fail to prove that he was insane when he carried out the shooting

Twisted: James Holmes, called The Joker because of his bizarre appearance the night of the massacre, faces the death penalty if convicted and lawyers fail to prove that he was insane when he carried out the shooting

The silence on the end of the phone confirmed her worst nightmare - that her beloved daughter Jessica Ghawi was dead and America was about to be faced with yet another senseless massacre.

Sandy will be forced to relive the dreadful events of July 20, 2012 as James Holmes' trial on multiple murder counts for the shooting in Aurora, Colorado begins today

The so called 'Joker' killer faces the death penalty if convicted and lawyers fail to prove that he was insane at the time he carried out the shooting.

His trial, which begins on Monday in Centennial, Colorado, is expected to last several months.

Witness testimony from survivors and family members of victims will be as harrowing as the evidence recently heard at the trial of the Boston bomber.

For Sandy Phillips the pain of losing her daughter is still raw but she will be in the courtroom for the trial.

While she will not give evidence she will speak if there is a penalty phase.

It was on cool summer evening on July 12th that Holmes stood up in front of the packed movie theater about 20 minutes into the screening of the film starring Christian Bale as Batman. 

With his hair dyed orange and dressed head to toe in black in protective body armor, some assumed he was playing the part of the The Joker' the cartoon-like nemesis of Batman.

Many in the theater, where 24-year-old Jessica sat with her friend Brent Lowak, thought he was all part of the entertainment for the special screening.

That notion ended when he began firing from an AR-15 semi automatic rifle.

Sports enthusiast: Jessica hoped to combine her love of journalism with her passion for sports

Sports enthusiast: Jessica hoped to combine her love of journalism with her passion for sports

 With his hair dyed orange and dressed head to toe in black in protective body armor, Jessica sat with her friend Brent Lowak, thinking James Holmes was all part of the entertainment for the special screening

 With his hair dyed orange and dressed head to toe in black in protective body armor, Jessica sat with her friend Brent Lowak, thinking James Holmes was all part of the entertainment for the special screening

The redhead covered the Colorado Avalanche for a sports radio station and did production work for Altitude Sports, a Denver TV network.She also wrote about hockey for blogs

The redhead covered the Colorado Avalanche for a sports radio station and did production work for Altitude Sports, a Denver TV network.She also wrote about hockey for blogs

Jessica was sure to have a successful career in front of the camera. But in a sad twist of fate, sitting in the middle of the theater, she was hit multiple times by a madman with an AR-15 semi automatic rifle. The fatal shot was a bullet to her head

Jessica was sure to have a successful career in front of the camera. But in a sad twist of fate, sitting in the middle of the theater, she was hit multiple times by a madman with an AR-15 semi automatic rifle. The fatal shot was a bullet to her head

In the seconds before his high capacity 100 round magazine jammed he killed 12 people and injured 70 others, 58 of them with gunshot wounds.

Jessica, who was sitting in the middle of the theater, was hit multiple times. The fatal shot was a bullet to her head.

In the almost three years since their daughter's death Sandy and her husband Lonnie have struggled to comprehend how she could lose her life taking part in such an everyday activity like watching a movie.

Speaking to Daily Mail Online from their home in San Antonio, Texas, the couple wept as they relived the final moments of their daughter's life.

Sandy, 63, said she knew Jessica, an aspiring sports reporter, was attending the film premiere having spoken with her on the phone earlier that day.

When her cell phone rang shortly before 1am she assumed it was Jessica calling to tell her all about the film.

She said: 'Jessica had gone to the movie with her friend Brett. We had chatted earlier and she was so excited about seeing the film. She was huge Batman fan and was looking forward to the movie.

'There isn't a day that passes when I do not think about Jessica,' her mom Sandy told Daily MailOnline. 'We have left her bedroom the same as it was when she went off to college'

'There isn't a day that passes when I do not think about Jessica,' her mom Sandy told Daily MailOnline. 'We have left her bedroom the same as it was when she went off to college'

'When I answered the call it was Brett's voice I first heard. I was still a bit half asleep when he said there had been in a shooting.

'He told me he had been shot twice. My mind just whirred and I asked if Jessica had been shot, and he said "Yes, it's bad."

'My mind was racing and I could feel the panic rising up through my body.

'I just asked him "Is she dead?". Brent was a trained paramedic and he knew from her injuries that she was not going to make it. She has been shot in the head.

'I just lost it and collapsed sobbing, screaming.

'My husband Lonnie heard me and rushed out of the bedroom with a shotgun we kept in a cupboard as he thought I was being attacked.

 I just lost it and collapsed sobbing, screaming. My husband Lonnie heard me and rushed out of the bedroom with a shotgun we kept in a cupboard as he thought I was being attacked.

'No mother of father should have to lose their daughter in such a way.

'Jessica was just beginning her life and it was snatched away.'

As Sandy recalls the fateful moment she heard her only daughter was dead she cannot stop the tears from flowing.

Her husband Lonnie,70, Jessica's step-father, claps her hand tight as they sit together on a sofa.

Photographs of Jessica, an attractive redhead who was studying broadcast journalism at a Denver college, adorn the walls of their home which is close to one of America's most historic buildings, The Alamo.

The couple, who also have a son Jordan, 27, would later learn from a coroner that their vivacious daughter had been shot six times and had 15 other shrapnel wounds from bullet fragments.

Sandy learned from Lowak, 30, that when the shooting began he and Jessica both crouched on the floor.

It was on one of her blogs that Jessica revealed she had been in Toronto, Canada and shopping at a mall when a man ran amok with a gun.The incident took place a month before her death in Colorado

It was on one of her blogs that Jessica revealed she had been in Toronto, Canada and shopping at a mall when a man ran amok with a gun.The incident took place a month before her death in Colorado

 Remembering Jessica: Friedns leave pictures, flowers and teddy bears in tribute to the 24-year-old

 Remembering Jessica: Friedns leave pictures, flowers and teddy bears in tribute to the 24-year-old

He told her she was shot in one of her legs and using his medical training applied pressure to the wound.

He then noticed blood staining her bright red hair he instantly knew she would not survive from her labored breathing.

Lowak survived the shooting after undergoing emergency surgery.

Other victims included six-year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan. Most were in their 20s and 30s.

Holmes was arrested without a struggle after he left the theater having propped up an emergency exit door.

It emerged that he had fired the AR-15, a shotgun and handgun into the packed crowd.

He had begun spraying bullets toward the top the movie theatee and working downwards as panic stricken guests scrambled for cover.

The only reason more people were not killed was because a 100 round high capacity magazine on the AR-15 jammed and he was forced to use his other weapons

When police searched Holmes's car they found other weapons and he admitted he had booby trapped his apartment.

Holmes appeared dazed and confused when he first appeared in court still sporting the bright orange hair that led him to be known as The Joker.

Many thought it was an act or that he was heavily medicated.

He pleaded not guilty to murder by reason of insanity in June 2013 and underwent two mental evaluations to determine if he was sane at the time of the shooting.

His lawyers had argued he was having a psychotic breakdown when he opened fire but prosecutors said the planning of the attack showed he knew what he was doing.

Holmes's legal team said he would plead guilty if he were spared the death penalty but prosecutors rejected the offer. They have consistently said Holmes deserves to die.

Sandy said she doesn't want Holmes to be executed, but instead spend the rest of his life in prison.

She cannot bring herself to even mention his name preferring to focus on her daughter.

'To me he is just a pathetic excuse for a human being. I will never dignify him by saying his name. I just refer to him as Jessica's killer. He does not deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as my daughter'

Jessica was an aspiring sports reporter hoping to combine her love of journalism and her favorite sport, hockey.

The Century 16 movie theater where Homes attacked movie goers during an early morning screening of the new Batman movie, 'The Dark Knight Rises' July 20, 2012 in Aurora, Colorado

The Century 16 movie theater where Homes attacked movie goers during an early morning screening of the new Batman movie, 'The Dark Knight Rises' July 20, 2012 in Aurora, Colorado

People visit a memorial setup across the street from the Century 16 movie theater 

People visit a memorial setup across the street from the Century 16 movie theater 

She covered the Colorado Avalanche for a sports radio station and did production work for Altitude Sports, a Denver TV network.

She also wrote about hockey for blogs.

It was on one of her blogs that she revealed she had been in Toronto, Canada, and shopping at a mall when a man ran amok with a gun.

The incident took place a month before her death in Colorado.

'I was shown how fragile life was on Saturday,' Jessica, who went by the last name Redfield professionally, wrote.

'I saw the terror on bystanders' faces. I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change. I was reminded that we don't know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath.'

Sandy, who had become an activist for gun control and represents The Brady Campaign, said her life effectively ended when her daughter died.

'Everything that I knew, that I held dear was gone,' she said.

'I was shown how fragile life was on Saturday,' Jessica wrote about the incident she witnessed in Toronto. 'I saw the terror on bystanders' faces. I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change. I was reminded that we don't know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath'

'I was shown how fragile life was on Saturday,' Jessica wrote about the incident she witnessed in Toronto. 'I saw the terror on bystanders' faces. I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change. I was reminded that we don't know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath'

'You have to redefine who you are, how you are, why you are, all of it.

'There isn't a day that passes when I do not think about Jessica. We have left her bedroom the same as it was when she went off to college.

'Jessica was just starting out on her life, and had so much to live for. She was my best friend and we were so close.

'The only thing I am grateful for is that we had her for 24 years.'

She added:'We have good days when we are able to cope, and there are others when the grief hits you like a Tsunami and it's hard to get through the day.'

Since joining The Brady campaign Sandy, who previously worked in the tourism industry, has travelled across the US to advocate gun control.

After 20 children and six teachers were killed in the Sandy Hook school massacre she went to Newtown, Connecticut to comfort the families of the victims.

'No mother should have to attend the funeral of their daughter because they have been killed in a random shooting,' said Sandy.

'If we can bring about some form of gun control to his country, then Jessica's life would not have been a waste.

'America has to wake up because we cannot go on with thousands of people a year dying from gun violence.'

James Holmes poses for a booking photo September 20, 2012 in Centennial, Colorado. Holmes was charged with 24 counts of murder and 116 counts of attempted murder in the July 20, shooting rampage

James Holmes poses for a booking photo September 20, 2012 in Centennial, Colorado. Holmes was charged with 24 counts of murder and 116 counts of attempted murder in the July 20, shooting rampage

The trial of former neuroscience student Holmes is expected to last several months.

His parents Robert and Arlene Holmes say they have always loved their son and do not want him to be executed.

In an open letter to the Denver Post last December they said: 'He is not a monster. He is a human being gripped by a severe mental illness.

The couple, who live in California, said they have spent every moment since the shooting thinking about the victims and their families and friends.

'We are always praying for everyone in Aurora. We wish that July 20, 2012 never happened,' they wrote.

Two months ago Mrs. Holmes pleaded with prosecutors not to pursue the death penalty saying their son was mentally ill.

In a prayer book that she was selling for $15 she said to the prosecutor: 'I do not know what you have been through in life. I do not know why you want to pursue execution of a mentally ill man.

'But I pray for you, so that you will find peace in your life. I pray you will change your mind. Please stop this quest for death so you may focus on those who are alive.'

In a later interview for the Del Mar Times newspaper Holmes said she and her husband had not done anything wrong and denied they contributed to the massacre.

She said: 'Because so many people like to blame the parents if a child is mentally ill, we have to reaffirm to ourselves every day that we were good parents and good people, and this still happened anyway.'

Lawyers for Holmes have to convince the jury that Holmes did not know right from wrong when he began shooting at the Aurora movie theater.

 

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