Oct. 14 should have marked a special day for Nikki Salgot. It’s the day she was supposed to marry her fiancé Collin Rose.
But just months after Rose proposed to Salgot, the Wayne State University sergeant was gunned down while looking into a string of car thefts in Detroit. He was transported to a local hospital where he died on Nov. 23, 2016 — one day before Thanksgiving.
“I was in shock and disbelief, almost frozen,” Salgot tells PEOPLE of the moment she received the heartbreaking news. “I remember feeling my mouth swell and go dry, my hands got cold and sweaty and my face go pale. It took several hours before it fully hit me and the emotional breakdown took over.”
Nearly a year after his death, Salgot decided to honor her husband-to-be with a solo wedding shoot, to present to her family on what would have been their wedding anniversary.
“He always swore he’d never get married. The joke was he was the most ineligible, eligible bachelor out there,” Salgot says. “He was actually probably more excited to get married than I was, so it only made sense to take those photos.”
Salgot posed in several shots wearing her wedding dress and holding Rose’s uniform hat along with a folded American flag. In some she sported smiles, in others, Salgot appeared solemn. Although she considers herself a private person, Salgot credits Rachel Smaller, of Rachel Smaller Photography, with helping her to open up about the painful incident.
“She captured the images that still vividly show the pain left behind; images that show I am still able to laugh, smile and be me; images that show this loss has not and will not destroy me; and my favorite, images that show I am still just as fierce as ever and refuse to let this define me,” she said in a post on the Love What Matters Facebook page.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and I will not be broken by this … He will never be fully gone from my life, so I didn’t want our wedding day to be a lost day. I instead wanted it to be a reminder of that love we had, for however brief it was.”
The photos quickly went viral, and Salgot’s moving story has made headlines a year later. And although Salgot says it is difficult to see her story everywhere, the photos serve as a reminder of her and Rose’s love.
“He was an amazingly kind-hearted, generous, do anything for anyone kind of person,” she tells PEOPLE. “He always brought out the best in people. He had a love for life and never wasted one second of the time he was given. I miss his smile and his upbeat personality. He always knew how to make me laugh.”