SAN DIEGO — For one San Diego couple meeting for the first time went the way it does for many – noticing one another in a bar and flirting as they got to know each other.
“I gave him a hard time for not wearing cowboy boots,” said Chantal Melanson of the first time she met Austin Monfort.
The two serendipitously encountered each other at Gilley’s Saloon – a country bar in Las Vegas.
“I thought she was very attractive, and she made me chase her around the bar to get her attention. So that made me even more interested,” Austin said.
But what came next was anything but a typical first date.
The two agreed to meet up at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival they were each attending the next day - Oct. 1, 2017. While the duo was enjoying the show together with a group of friends, shots rang out in what would become the deadliest mass shooting committed by an individual in the United States.
Initially, the two thought the sounds they were hearing were fireworks but as they saw festival-goers taking cover on the ground they quickly realized it was something much more terrifying they were in the middle of.
“The group we were with all decided to run out to a safer place,” said Chantal. “Once we all got up, we all ran in different directions, however, Austin never left my side. We ran through the entire festival ground to get to a safe place.”
Fifty-eight people lost their lives that day, but Chantal and Austin were able to find safety and as they processed the trauma of the event their relationship blossomed.
“It definitely helped to have people we knew share the same experience. When [we were] having a bad day, we could all talk about it and they knew exactly how we were feeling,” Chantal said. “[Austin and I] had that bond and leaned on each other. We also quickly tried to focus on positive things rather than relive the shooting all the time.”
Together, Chantal and Austin chose to make the most of their lives and put their attention on what made them happy – including each other and country music.
"You never know when it’s your time,” Chantal said. “We still go to country festivals because that’s what we loved doing. Now, more than ever, we try to live life to the fullest.”
Though one of their earliest experiences together was a harrowing ordeal, it also helped the couple learn about one another in deeper ways. Chantal said she felt safe with Austin just 24 hours after meeting him and trusted him like no one before.
“Seeing how Chantal handled the situation and her positivity showed me how strong of a woman she is,” Austin said.
With the cornerstones of trust, respect, and admiration in place, next, of course, came marriage for Austin and Chantal – only that hasn’t gone as planned either.
Chantal and Austin legally married in November of last year in order to obtain a K1 visa for Chantal – a native of Canada – so she could live in San Diego with Austin. The couple had planned to have a wedding celebration with friends and family last month in Las Vegas, but then the coronavirus hit, and their plans were postponed.
As they had in the past, the couple made the most of the situation and still found a way to commemorate what would have been their wedding day on May 8.
“Postponing our wedding was sad. A lot of planning went into it, however, it was out of anyone’s control,” said Chantal. “We decided instead to have a beautiful date in our backyard with champagne and a nice dinner.”
Despite the unconventional celebration, Chantal said the night was something they’ll remember forever.
The couple is now waiting to see what happens with the COVID-19 pandemic before planning a wedding with guests – especially since many have to travel from Canada.
“We will for sure have a beautiful celebration once everything is back to normal,” Chantal said.