A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Megan’s Story: ‘People loving people …
that’s what I want to come out of this’

On a farm in Shelbyville, Kentucky, Megan Ehrlich married her 'best friend,' Jonathan Price. 'It was the best day of my life,' she said. (Photo courtesy Megan Price/Simply Schaut Photography)

On a farm in Shelbyville, Kentucky, Megan Ehrlich married her ‘best friend,’ Jonathan Price. ‘It was the best day of my life,’ she said. (Photo courtesy Megan Price/Simply Shaut Photography)

jp mug - use for sureWhen 26-year-old Jonathan Price was gunned down in the parking lot of a popular Lexington night spot one year ago, he became another grim statistic. He was the city’s eighth homicide victim of 2014, one of 18 for the year.

While 18 homicides is nothing unusual for Lexington – on average there are 14 to 19 homicides a year – Price’s death came during an especially violent period for Kentucky’s second-largest city. He was one of five people shot – and two killed – in a single weekend and the first of a dozen shootings and four deaths in a little over a month.

For his wife, their family and friends, of course, Jonathan is no statistic. Behind an awful number is a very human story.

It’s the story of an only child who grew up in a loving family, of a young man who volunteered to serve his country, of a newlywed who married his best friend, and of a kind soul embraced by those who knew him simply as J.P.

It’s also the story of a young wife who was shot first on that warm June evening, of how she is surviving both the physical and emotional trauma, and of how she is determined to use this tragedy to make the world a little better place.

“Stories like this should be heard,” Megan Price said nearly eight months later. “It’s kind of cheesy but Garth Brooks’ new song ‘People Loving People,’ that’s what I want to come out of this.” 

By Terri Darr McLean
KyForward news editor

Megan Price had an eerie feeling.

As she and husband Jonathan Price waited for their designated driver in the parking lot of Lexington’s Austin City Saloon, something unsettling came over her – a “gut feeling that we just need to get out of here.”

“He taught me so much in just a few short years of knowing him and a few short months of being married to him. You don’t generally get that from one person.”

It was June 20, 2014 – Megan’s 24th birthday. With friends and family, the couple began the evening at a restaurant and then moved the celebration to Austin City, a bar and country music venue they’d been to many times before.

“No sooner had I had that feeling than I looked up and there was a guy approaching us, with a gun already drawn,” she said.

What happened next would end one life and shatter many more. And it would leave many others wondering how such random violence could occur anywhere, much less in their own community.

A ‘ray of sunshine’

Jonathan Price was the only child born to John Woodrow “J.W.” and Debbie Price. His parents divorced when he was 5, and Jonathan continued to live with his mother in the small Central Kentucky town of Versailles, just outside Lexington.

By most accounts, his was a fairly typical childhood. He was a good student, played baseball and enjoyed working on a family friend’s farm. He graduated from Woodford County High School in 2006 and worked for a while before joining the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve in 2011.

Jonathan and his mom Debbie had a special relationship, Megan said.  One relative posted on Facebook after Jonathan's death: 'It's so precious and heartwarming the way he loved his momma!' (Photo provided)

Jonathan and his mom Debbie had a special relationship, Megan said. One relative posted on Facebook after Jonathan’s death: ‘It’s so precious and heartwarming the way he loved his momma!’ (Photo provided)

Well-liked by adults as well as his peers, Jonathan was known for a smile that Megan described as a ray of sunshine. “He was always happy – always smiling,” she said.

The two became friends while in high school; she was a freshman, he was a junior. They became “really good friends” when Jonathan returned from boot camp several years later, Megan said.

Eventually, the pair decided to “test the waters” to see if there was something more. Three months later, Jonathan proposed – and Megan said yes.

“There was no hesitation on my part. We had only been dating officially for three months, but we had been together for a long time,” she said.

Lessons learned early

Megan Ehrlich was No. 3 – the third of three girls born to Fred Ehrlich and Katie Bledsoe. Her parents divorced, also when she was 5, and she and sisters Brittany and Melanie were raised by their mother in the close-knit Woodford County community of Midway, just seven miles from Versailles.

“It was a madhouse,” Megan laughed. “An emotional roller coaster at all times. But my mom and sisters are my rocks. We have a bond that cannot be broken.”

They also have a shared faith, thanks to the mother who always took them to church and grandparents who taught by example. In particular, Megan learned early on the importance of the simple philosophy expressed in the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

“It’s hard to still say that,” she said, pausing, “but it’s something I’ve always lived by. I can’t just up and forget about it because something bad happened.”

Jonathan and Megan had this photo taken to announce their engagement. (Photo courtesy Megan Price/Simply Shaut Photography)

Jonathan and Megan had this photo taken to announce their engagement. (Photo courtesy Megan Price/Simply Shaut Photography)

A storybook wedding

With family and close friends looking on, Megan and Jonathan were married Aug. 3, 2013, in an outdoor ceremony on a farm in Shelbyville, Kentucky. Many described it as a “storybook wedding,” no doubt in part due to the striking groom in his dress blues and the beautiful bride with an ear-to-ear smile.

“I got to marry my best friend,” Megan said. “It was the best day of my life.”

As some had warned, the first few months of marriage had ups and downs. Moving twice during that time was especially stressful. “We were kind of like Noah and Allie in ‘The Notebook.’ We’d argue about nothing, but the chemistry we had between us was strong.”

Jonathan was busy serving in the Marine Corps Reserve and working full-time at Link-Belt, while Megan was building a successful career as a hair stylist. The couple worked hard at marriage, and despite the predictable bumps in the road, they had their eyes squarely on the future. “We set goals – we wanted to pay off our debt, buy some land and build a house. … and be happy,” Megan said.

The domino effect

On Sept. 11, three months after Jonathan was killed, Megan was asked to speak at the Lexington Rescue Mission. This is her speech:

The domino effect is a chain reaction that occurs when a small change causes a similar change nearby, which then causes another similar change, and so on in linear sequence. The term is best known as a mechanical effect and is used as an analogy to a falling row of dominoes. It typically refers to a linked sequence of events where the time between successive events is relatively small. It can be used literally or metaphorically.

My family and I started following and supporting the mission almost four years ago after my [step]dad [Jon Fecke] passed away. The mission has become very important to us. Each year we have a team for the walk for warmth and attend the banquet for dinner. Each year we spread the word about the mission and gain new members for “Team Jon.” My husband, Jonathan Price, was introduced to the mission about two years ago when he attended his first Walk for Warmth. He had agreed to walking before knowing the cause. Once we left He wanted to know all about the mission, so we shared as much as we could with him.

Jonathan was the type of person who could light up a room. He made you want to be a better person. He was a lover. A fighter. A U.S. Marine. He was the person to give you the shirt off his back. He would always lend a helping hand. He never did anything without a smile on his face. He was a son. A Christian. My husband. He would do anything he could to protect those he loved. He would give anything, and he did. He gave his life for me on June 21, 2014.

I am here tonight not for myself but for my husband. To continue his legacy of giving. Because of Jonathan’s generosity, he impacted many lives both spiritually and physically. I’m hoping that I can make a difference in this world no matter how big or how small it may seem. We are all here tonight for very different reasons. Some of us are directly involved in the mission, others indirectly. Nevertheless we are all involved. We all have a reason and a purpose for being here. Our purpose is to continue the dominoes.

Ironically, this time last year I committed to a prayer for the year by taking a prayer request off of the prayer boards in this very room. My prayer was to to pray for the brokenhearted. So for one year, I’ve prayed for the brokenhearted. I believe this will be my continuous prayer.

Thank you for allowing me to share with you my connection to the mission and the domino effect. I pray you will continue to see dominoes fall around you and when you do that you are able to think of someone special who has encouraged you to be and give your best self to others.

Wrong place, wrong time

For Megan, birthdays are meant to be celebrated. Turning 24 was no exception.

She and Jonathan, along with Megan’s mom and sister Brittany and six friends, started the evening of June 20 at Harry’s, a Lexington bar and restaurant. Then, as they finished their meal, the guys suggested two options for the rest of the night: continue the celebration at Saddle Ridge, another country music venue, or at Austin City Saloon. Megan’s mom and sister went home, but the others decided to go to Austin City.

“The night was coming to an end. Jonathan was ready to go. I was ready to go. I had a bad feeling…”

A few hours later, Megan and Jonathan decided to call it a night and walked out into Austin City’s parking lot to wait for the group’s designated driver, who was still inside. They sat on the DD’s car, parked next to a lamp post, talking – and waiting. Megan called the friends still in the bar, but they did not answer.

“The night was coming to an end. Jonathan was ready to go. I was ready to go. I had a bad feeling …,” she recalled.

Moments later, a man with a handgun drawn approached the couple. At first, Megan wondered if she’d had too much to drink and was “seeing things.”

“I grabbed Jonathan’s hand and I looked at him like, ‘Are you serious? Is this real?’”

But when Megan saw a second man standing on Jonathan’s far side, reality quickly sunk in. The man with the gun pointed it at her and asked for money. Before she could get to the $60 in her shoulder bag, he grabbed the bag off her arm … and then fired.

Megan heard the deafening sound and fell to the ground. A bullet had ripped through her femur, yet she was unaware she had been shot. She remembers thinking the assailant had pushed her down.

Jonathan, whom Megan is sure was trying to protect her, began to fight with the second assailant. But he was pushed into a vehicle and fell to the ground, face down.

As Megan lay nearby, watching helplessly, the man who had shot her then walked over and shot Jonathan – point blank, in the back.

‘In my heart, I knew he was gone’

“I asked God why a couple of times. But God did not put us in that position. God gives us as humans free will to do what we want and hopes that we make the right decision and choose the right path. … The guys who chose to do this, to rob us, to injure me and to kill Jonathan, it was them who chose our fate.”

After the gunfire stopped – and the assailants walked away (yes, walked away, she said) – the only thing Megan could think about was getting to Jonathan, who was lying just beyond her reach.

“When I couldn’t move, that’s when I figured out I’d been shot,” she said. And when she couldn’t reach him, she just kept telling him she loved him.  

Realizing she had her cell phone in her hand, Megan called 911. The operator kept Megan on the phone until the emergency medical technicians arrived a few minutes later.

“In my heart, I knew he was gone,” she said, “but I kept holding onto hope.”

Two hours after the couple arrived at University of Kentucky Hospital, with family and friends keeping vigil nearby, doctors confirmed the worst. Jonathan was dead.

‘God makes you numb’

The next few hours – days, really – were a blur. Megan, her leg shattered, went into surgery shortly after being told of Jonathan’s death. But she was aware enough to know she had to help plan a funeral, and she refused to do it from a hospital bed. She was dismissed barely 48 hours after the shooting, into the care of her mother, a nurse.

Jonathan was buried with full military honors in Campbellsville, his family's homeplace. Along the 10-mile route to the cemetery that day, people waved American flags, saluted and stood silent in the Marine's honor. (Photo provided)

Jonathan was buried with full military honors in Campbellsville, Kentucky, his family’s homeplace. Along the 10-mile route to the cemetery that day people waved American flags, saluted and stood silent in the Marine’s honor. (Photo provided)

Just as they had done at the hospital, a community of family and friends surrounded both families. People who didn’t know Jonathan or Megan but were touched by their story also reached out in support. A fund set up by Megan’s co-workers at Lexington’s Posh Salon eventually raised more than $25,000. And news reports generated interest in their story as far away as Great Britain.

Jonathan’s funeral, in his family’s native Campbellsville, Kentucky, was standing-room-only. The 10-mile procession to the cemetery, where he was buried with full military honors, was lined with people saluting and flying American flags.

Predictably, the physical pain caused by Megan’s injury and subsequent surgery quickly set in; the emotional pain crept in more slowly. When there were tears, they were in private.

“God makes you numb in order to get through those first big things that you’ve got to get through,” she said. “And then he allows you to grieve.”

An ‘honorable death’

In the days that followed, as Megan struggled to heal, she surprised many by her resolve, not only physically during weeks of rehabilitation but also emotionally as she tried to make sense out of something so senseless.

“I asked God why a couple of times,” she said. “But God did not put us in that position. God gives us as humans free will to do what we want and hopes that we make the right decision and choose the right path. … The guys who chose to do this, to rob us, to injure me and to kill Jonathan, it was them who chose our fate.”

Megan (Photo by Brittany Ehrlich)

Megan insists she’s found peace and forgiveness. ‘I can’t let it control my life. God is their ultimate judge. I’ll let him give them their sentence.’ (Photo by Brittany Ehrlich)

She also began to process details of the shooting. One burning question: “Why didn’t someone help us?”

“They did not take my happy. You can’t take my happy. I’m grateful for the time I got with Jonathan. I’m a better person for having known him. And if that means I only got him for the time I got him, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Turns out, as friend and designated driver Bethany Burton said, the music inside Austin City made it impossible to hear the gunshots. Plus, she said the bar’s doors were shut and they couldn’t see the commotion outside.

“It wasn’t until we walked outside and I saw the police officers and the caution tape around my car when I knew something was wrong,” Burton said.

Leaning on a faith that she described as “stronger than ever,” Megan insists she’s found peace – and forgiveness. “I can’t let it control my life. God is their ultimate judge. I’ll let him give them their sentence.”

That’s not to say she doesn’t want justice, and she stands firm in support of the local police, several of whom served in the same reserve unit as Jonathan.

Lexington police declined to talk about their investigation for this story. “At this time our detectives would like to hold off on doing any interviews about this case,” spokeswoman Sherrell Roberts said.

“I feel like it will be solved,” Megan said. “I have a good gut, and absolutely I put my trust in the Lexington Police Department … I believe with the success rate they have had in years past, they are fully capable of solving this case.”

In the meantime, Megan said she is determined to be “more positive,” as Jonathan was. “I think the world needs more people like him. There’s not enough.”

On a recent trip to New York City, Megan carried out the tradition of clipping a lock to the  Brooklyn Bridge as a symbol of love. The combination on the lock was set to 8-3-13, the date she and Jonathan were married. (Photo courtesy of Megan Price)

On a recent trip to New York City, Megan carried out the tradition of clipping a lock to the Brooklyn Bridge as a symbol of love. The combination on the lock was set to 8-3-13, the date she and Jonathan were married. (Photo courtesy Megan Price)

She is also carrying out the goals they set as they embarked on the first months of married life, including finding some land on which to build a house. “I don’t want to do anything that he wouldn’t have done himself.”

“I’m OK,” she added. “They did not take my happy. You can’t take my happy. I’m grateful for the time I got with Jonathan. I’m a better person for having known him. And if that means I only got him for the time I got him, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. He taught me so much in just a few short years of knowing him and a few short months of being married to him. You don’t generally get that from one person.”

And if there’s one thing she finds solace in, it is this:

“Knowing my husband, I knew he wanted an honorable death,” she said. “He died an honorable death. He gave his life for mine.”