Amber Vanderpol is still wearing the maple leaf-adorned bandanna that her boyfriend, Jordan McIldoon, had on his head when the couple were in Las Vegas over the weekend.
Now it’s wrapped around her arm, a reminder of the nearly two years she shared with him, before his life was cut short just days ahead of his 24th birthday.
The bandanna also captured what Vanderpol described as McIldoon’s country-loving spirit.
The couple had traveled to Vegas to celebrate both of their birthdays (she turned 23 last weekend, his was coming up on Friday).
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Vanderpol lit up as she described their weekend getaway.
“It was an amazing weekend,” she said. “Before it all happened, we had the greatest day. We went out for lunch, and we were singing to each other and we were dancing.
“Just to be able to go again and to walk the strip, to see everything and take a bunch of pictures… it was a great trip.”
The festival itself was a highlight for both of them.
“Everyone was having a good time, everyone was singing and dancing,” she said. “We were all coming together for the love of country music.”
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‘We’re not done’
Then, on Sunday night, everything changed.
“We started to run, and he covered me, and he saved me.”
The couple ran for cover against a table near a bar, and McIldoon made sure to keep Vanderpol away from the line of fire as best as he could.
Suddenly, he told his girlfriend that he had been shot.
“I rolled him over,” Vanderpol said. “I wanted to see it. In all the chaos that was going on, I was trying to look at it, trying to get him to talk to me, trying to make sure he was still conscious.
“I constantly, constantly told him, ‘I love you, I love you. You can’t go anywhere, we’re not done.'”
An off-duty paramedic rushed over to the couple and assisted. Vanderpol said they took turns giving McIldoon CPR.
“I gave him his last breaths,” she said.
“His last words to me after being shot were, ‘I love you.’ And that is something that I will never forget.”
Vanderpol was then ripped away from her boyfriend’s body — the danger wasn’t over, and first responders were evacuating as many people as they could.
“Nobody knew where the shooter was. They wanted us all to be safe, and I know that’s what he would have wanted,” she said.
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‘We were going to get married’
Now back home in Maple Ridge, Vanderpol is left with memories of the kind, loving person she had planned to marry.
“He was the love of my life, and he made sure that I knew that I was his,” she said. “We only had just shy of two years, but honestly they were the best two years of my entire life.
“We started dating a day after we met, and we both just knew that we were going to get married and have kids. We had all this planned out. On my birthday we talked about what our wedding would be like, and what the rest of our life would look like.
“It was going to be incredible, it really was.”
Vanderpol smiled and laughed as she remembered McIldoon and the good times they had together: how much he loved his construction job, how excited he was to finish school this year and obtain his Red Seal “so we could go anywhere we wanted to,” and how he’d try and lighten the mood in any situation. Even this one.
“He would make some stupid, funny comment to try and lighten the mood,” she said when asked what he’d do if he had survived that night. “That’s just what he did.”
She also made clear repeatedly that McIldoon was a hero, and not just for what he did for her that night.
“He was just the most genuine, kind person, and would give the shirt off his back for someone in need,” she said. “That’s just the way he was, and that’s what I loved about him. His mom said if he wasn’t injured, we both would have been trying to help people.
“He saved me in so many ways other than just this event. He taught me how to love, he taught me how to be a good person. He was the love of my life. No one could ever say anything bad about him.
“He had it in his head that everyone thought he was this big, scary redneck, but he was honestly one of the most amazing people I have ever met in my whole life.”
As Vanderpol tries to move on from “the most traumatic thing in my entire life I will ever have to go through,” she shared a message for anyone lucky enough to have the kind of love for someone that she and McIldoon had for each other.
“We really loved each other, and if anyone could ever feel the way we felt about each other, you just hold onto them really tightly. Because you never know when it’s their last day.”
With files from John Hua