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Wounded EMT prayed over Jessica Ghawi's body as shots continued in Aurora theater shooting

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Posted at 2:16 PM, May 20, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-20 15:21:59-04

While the bullets were still whizzing by, spraying popcorn and soda, an EMT prayed over the body of his long-time friend after he realized she'd suffered a fatal wound during the movie theater shooting on July 20, 2012.

Brenton Lowak says he was visiting his long-time friend Jessica Ghawi in Colorado at the time of the shooting. They'd known each other since they attended high school together in Texas and even dated for a time.

He testified Wednesday during the 16th day of the trial of James Holmes. Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to killing Ghawi and 11 others in the mass shooting. Lowak was one of the 70 people who were injured but survived the shooting.

Like other survivors who testified before him, Lowak says he heard a hissing sound and saw a canister of tear gas hurled across the theater from right to left.

"I was kind of puzzled at first, and then the first shot rang out," he testified.

Lowak said he and Ghawi were seated toward the right side of Row 12.

He said that after the shooting began, he heard "mass panic, chaos, people screaming." He and Ghawi tried to exit the row, but the crowd wasn't moving quickly enough and they went to the ground instead.

"I started to feel the spray of popcorn and soda all around," he said.

At first, Lowak said, Ghawi was telling him to call 911 but her tone soon changed and as he realized she'd been shot in the leg.

"I noticed her tone changed entirely," he testified. "It transitioned from 'Call 911!' to screaming."

His EMT training kicked in and he tried to apply pressure to her wound while he reached for his phone, but during that movement he too was shot. A bullet caught him in his left buttocks, ricocheting off his hip and sending shrapnel into his abdomen.

Then, he realized his long-time friend had been hit again. This time, it was a head wound and he knew from his training that it was not survivable.

"I prayed over her," he told the jury. "I didn't really know what to do, it just felt right -- I tried to give her the best sendoff I could."

Afterward, he said his attention shifted to self-preservation.

"At that point, I felt my own survival was my next priority."

Lowak testified that he made his way up the stairs, ready to jump over a banister and down to the exit if the gunman returned again, but he never did.  Soon, he said, people in uniform arrived and two carried Lowak outside.

Outside, Lowak testified that he assisted the paramedics in assigning triage tags to other victims based on the severity of their injuries. He was one of the last to be taken to a hospital.

At the hospital, he was given emergency surgery to stop the bleeding caused by the shrapnel from the bullet that hit his hip. He also found that he'd suffered a shrapnel wound to his shoulder and some nerve damage.