Woman marries the man who saved her life during Las Vegas mass shooting
Chantal Melanson was enjoying a night out with friends at a country bar when a stranger came over to chat.
It was day two of the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas and she was busy dancing with her girlfriends so she laughed that the man who introduced himself as Austin Monfort and kept enjoying herself.
She had no idea that just 24 hours later, that stranger would help to save her life during one of the worst mass shootings that has ever happened in America.
In the weeks that followed, they supported each other, despite Chantal being based in Canada and Austin in California, and soon fell in love, eventually having their legal wedding last November.
They were planning to return to Las Vegas for a huge wedding celebration this May with friends and family but it has been postponed due to coronavirus.
Chantal tells Metro.co.uk: ‘We’ve dealt with everything by focusing on the positive.
‘There was a reason we met when we did. We needed each other in this chaos.’
Chantal, now 29, only went to the festival because a friend called a few weeks before with a spare ticket.
She was able to get some time off work so travelled from Alberta, Canada to Las Vegas for the three day event from 29 September until 1 October 2017.
Austin, now 24, was at the event with a few of his friends celebrating his friend’s 21st birthday.
Their paths first crossed in Gilley’s – a famous country music bar – on the second night.
After being told off by Chantal for his lack of cowboy boots, Austin kept trying his luck and smiled at her across the dance floor.
Eventually they started chatting and dancing together and realised there was a spark.
Chantal says: ‘It just felt like we knew each other forever. We went to grab a bite after the bar and exchanged numbers.’
The next day, when Chantal’s friends wanted to go shopping, she decided to head to the festival early and messaged him to ask if he wanted to meet up.
Austin was there already. They made their way towards the stage and bumped into his friends so she decided to stay dancing and listening to the music together, even after her friends arrived.
Just after 10pm, Stephen Paddock opened fire on the crowd, shooting from his suite on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel above the crowd, as Chantal and Austin and the rest of the 22,000 attendees watched Jason Aldean on stage.
Chantal says: ‘We thought it was fireworks at the beginning since all big concerts usually have some kind of fireworks, however when it wasn’t stopping, everyone dropped to the ground.
‘We were on the ground across from each other so we both were looking at each other. We stayed on the ground for a while and the shots were not stopping.
‘Austin’s friends parents told everyone to run to safety because the shots were non stop.
‘Everyone ran in different directions but Austin stayed with me and we ran together. We ran across the entire festival grounds stopping a few times to get shelter.’
Austin held onto her tightly and guided her out of the grounds to escape the gun fire.
58 people died in the crowd during the shooting and 869 people were injured. The perpetrator shot himself in his hotel room and was later found by police.
Luckily, Chantal, Austin and their friends escaped unharmed.
Chantal adds: ‘We eventually ran onto a side street and jumped into a taxi with a lady already in the car.
‘We were about to leave, when another lady was running towards us holding her leg and stomach – she had been shot.
‘We were all strangers at that point but tried to help one another and rush to the hospital. We stayed in the hospital overnight due to lockdown and Austin never left my side.
‘He held me throughout the night and kept me safe. After what we had just gone through, he was my safe place.’
The afternoon after the shooting Austin flew home to California but Chantal’s flight was the following day.
When they were both safely at home, they continued to FaceTime everyday and quickly fell in love.
Chantal says: ‘He was the only person I wanted to talk to. It just felt so right and safe talking to him after what we went through. He told me he would come visit me in Canada.
‘Six weeks later he made his promise! And we never spent more than six weeks apart either me going to California or him Canada.’
Being together hasn’t been easy for the pair due to immigration rules.
Chantal explains: ‘We had very important life conversations earlier on since we were from two different countries we had to figure out what life would be like if we stayed together and made this work.’
Austin proposed on 8 March 2019 after 18 months together in Laguna Beach.
Chantal says: ‘Laguna has been our little getaway since our relationship started. We loved to escape to Laguna for a day or two and just soak all of it in, just me and him.
‘He brought me to our favourite beach and there was no one around. It was perfect.
‘His heart was beating out of his chest when he gave me a hug and he got down on one knee and proposed, followed by a beautiful three course meal.’
Austin even wore cowboy boots on the beach, in a nod to their first conversation, and he pulled the ring out of one boot to ask the question.
After the proposal, they decided to apply for a K1 Visa, which means that the fiancé of a U.S. citizen can move to be with them but they must marry within 90 days.
After 10 months, in September 2019, the visa was finally granted.
It means that Chantal is unable to work in the U.S. until her green card is granted, but she was excited to get to live with Austin in San Diego.
‘We drove from Alberta Canada to San Diego, California. It was the most exciting road trip ever!’ Chantal says.
‘We had a courthouse wedding for our visa on 1 November as we had to get legally married within 90 days of me entering the country.
‘We made it very small but I still wanted a few pictures taken because it was still a very important day.’
Since then, the couple had been planning a huge wedding for family and friends in Las Vegas for 8 May this year, but sadly it has been postponed due to coronavirus.
‘It’s been a bit stressful as so much planning has gone into it with my whole family living in Canada and his California,’ Chantal adds.
‘However through it all we are just so grateful that we both get to be quarantined together and not in different countries!’
They plan to rearrange their wedding party and celebrate their remarkable love story when lockdown is over.
You can follow their story on their Instagram page @tragedytolove.
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