Woman Marries Man Who Rescued Her in Las Vegas Mass Shooting: 'I Didn't Want to Leave His Side'
"I remember laying on the ground just looking into Austin’s eyes, trying to make sense of everything," Chantal Melanson tells PEOPLE
A California man and a Canadian woman who met just 24 hours before they escaped a deadly mass shooting together have since fallen in love and married.
On Sept. 30, 2017, Austin Monfort first noticed Chantal Melanson at a Las Vegas country bar. The two strangers were both in town for the Route 91 Harvest festival, a three-night event featuring top country acts and up-and-coming artists.
With the second night of the festival winding down, Monfort thought he'd try his luck and approached Melanson — only to be quickly rejected.
"I was with my girls and I gave him a hard time for not wearing cowboy boots at a country bar," Melanson, 29, tells PEOPLE.
Not to be dissuaded, Monfort waited before walking up to Melanson one last time and asking her to dance. This time she agreed, and the two danced and talked for hours before exchanging numbers.
"After I got over him not wearing cowboy boots [laughs], I thought he was really nice, handsome and tall," she says. "He was so easy to talk to, it felt like we knew each other forever."
The next night on Oct. 1, Melanson texted Monfort to join her at the outdoor event to catch the last performances before the festival came to a close.
But as country star Jason Aldean wrapped up his show, a series of loud bangs rang out from the 32nd floor of the nearby Mandalay Bay hotel. A 64-year-old man had broken out the window of his hotel room and was firing bullets from high-powered weapons into the crowd of 22,000 concertgoers.
"We were just listening to music having a good time," Monfort, 24, recalls. "Until we realized that the noises weren’t fireworks, they were gunshots. Then it became, 'Am I going to survive this, how much longer until police can make it stop, and how do we get out of here?' "
"I thought it was fireworks at the beginning," Melanson adds. "When I realized what was happening, I started panicking."
Monfort says he instinctively felt compelled to protect Melanson when he recognized what was happening.
"I felt a sense of responsibility for Chantal," he says. "She was with me and not her friends. I felt like not only did I have to get myself out, but also her. Keeping her calm and getting her out kept me calm, and didn’t allow me to panic."
As bullets flew into the crowd, Monfort did his best to protect Melanson — someone he had only known for a day — by guiding through the chaos and out of the concert area.
"I remember laying on the ground just looking into Austin’s eyes, trying to make sense of everything," Melanson says. "Next thing I knew, Austin was holding my hand and we were running through the entire grounds trying to make it to safety."
The two stayed with each other for the rest of the night until they said their goodbyes the next morning as Monfort prepared to return home to San Diego and Melanson back to Canada.
They kept in contact over the following months, and soon, love bloomed from their tragic experience together.
The two became engaged in March of last year when Melanson visited California. They later married in a San Diego courthouse and planned a traditional celebration, but that has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The couple is currently living in California and has documented their emotional journey on their Instagram page.
"I felt safe with him — I didn’t want to leave his side," Melanson says of her husband and his actions on the tragic night they shared together. "In many ways, he did save my life."