A Kernelite immortalized: Jonathan Krueger’s memory endures at UK

Kentucky Kernel Photo Editor Jonathan Krueger at Rupp Arena as Kentucky hosted Vanderbilt University, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015 in Lexington. Photo by Jonathan Palmer

Corrie McCroskey

To his family and friends, Jonathan Krueger was a true light; someone who “never knew a stranger,” was obsessed with Red Bull, craved adrenaline rushes and lived every day with a full and fierce heart.

On the morning of April 17, 2015, Krueger, who was a photo editor for the Kentucky Kernel, lost his life in an act of violence that forever changed the worlds of those around him.

Now, seven years later, those responsible for his death have been prosecuted and tried for their crimes. The case may be closed, but the hollow in the lives of those who loved Krueger is still ever present.

His mother, Mary Krueger, reflected on the Kernel’s role in her son’s life and how it remains one of her most powerful memories of her son.

“I knew he did it, I knew he loved it, but I didn’t understand that it was a family and I just love it. I’ve been following it ever since,” Mary Krueger said about the Kernel.

Every year that March Madness rolls around is a difficult time for Mary Krueger, who deeply associates that time with her son. He had a passion for covering the event.

“When I think about him, it usually starts with March Madness and through the month of April. He lived and breathed that whole event,” Mary Krueger said. “He loved every minute of it, and when I see those games on TV and I see those photographers under the basketball hoops, I can’t help but think about him being under one of those hoops.”

One of the last times that Mary Krueger spent time with her son before he passed was after March Madness ended in spring 2015. Jonathan Krueger came home for his birthday, and his mother says she was looking forward to hearing about his work at the games.

“He came home that weekend and had his birthday April 12. He turned 22 that day. I was hoping to talk to him a little bit about it and didn’t get the chance,” Mary Krueger said. “I knew I was going to be seeing him in a few more weeks after exams, and he died five days later. That whole spread from the start of March Madness until well into April is my Jonathan time … That was just the essence of him living to the fullest and taking advantage of all the opportunities that came his way.”

It has taken her many years to deal with the grief of losing her youngest son, but she said that she is now able to look at his death with gratitude for the time that she did have with him.

“We try to celebrate what he stood for … He was very outgoing,” Mary Krueger said. “I feel like he wore his personality on his sleeve. He was very optimistic and had a lot of energy. In different ways, I think we all try to emulate those positive aspects that he shared with everybody else as we go forward.”

Mary Krueger said another part of her healing process has been being able to stay involved with the university through the Jonathan Krueger Memorial Scholarship, which was created to honor her son by giving a fund to Kernel photographers to purchase or upgrade their gear.

“I am thrilled to see all the recipients. I’ve been able to watch their work in the Kernel and KRNL. Several of them that have gone on I’ve been able to keep tabs on a little bit,” she said. “It’s a great gift. I know that he’d be thrilled to know that people are getting a chance to get some additional money to enhance their photography and their work and what they’re doing. That would mean a lot to him. I know it’s the right thing.”

Recently, Mary Krueger has struggled with feeling as if she is reminiscing more on her son than she has in previous years. She has made multiple trips back to Lexington over the last couple of weeks in anticipation of the trial, which sentenced those responsible for his death.

“It did bring up a lot. You always think about it, but I really went back and read a lot of notes that people wrote and different things. So, this year I really feel like I’ve relived an awful lot and a lot of things that I tucked away came back to the surface again,” she said.

Two of Jonathan Krueger’s closest friends who worked with him at the Kernel, Annie Dunbar and Michael Reaves, remember him as a talented goofball with a tremendous work ethic.

“To put it simply, Jonathan was pure joy, a compassionate, hilarious friend to so many people,” Dunbar said. “He had an infectious smile and made an impression on everyone he met. He was constantly looking for the next adventure in his life.”

She recalled the many trips they made together to cover games, adding that he made everything fun, no matter what it was.

“We went to the Kentucky–Missouri football game and stopped through St. Louis,” Dunbar said. “We did the Budweiser Brewery and went up in the [Gateway] Arch together, which, Krueger really had to convince me to do that, because I’m scared of heights. It was truly shenanigans.”

Reaves recalled working March Madness with Jonathan Krueger, including a trip to Cleveland for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, where Reaves stayed at the Krueger house in Toledo during the tournament.

“Trying to save costs, as Kernel kids do, we stayed at his house and did the two-hour drive every day, which was just dreadful,” Reaves said. “The best part was that I got to go home and meet his mom and his dad and his siblings … You got to see his life and his circle and his family. That’s where we got really close and that was right before the shooting.”

For both Dunbar and Reaves, the Kernel was an integral part of their relationships with Jonathan Krueger and allowed them to form connections that they still have today.

“The Kernel office is a petri dish for those relationships and for them to grow,” Reaves said. “Regardless of whether we got along or liked one another, we were in the same rooms doing layout so many nights in a row and brainstorming ideas and meetings. In a sense it’s like a sports team, you are a team. It’s, in a sense, your family.”

Dunbar and Reaves said they stay in contact with multiple others on the Kernel staff who knew Jonathan Krueger and make sure to check in with each other. They also try to continue to work and experience life in his honor and put forward the same energy and exuberance he embodied.

“Hopefully he’s up in heaven looking down and saying, ‘Man, Michael’s there, and I’m a part of that.’ I’m very much not who I am if it wasn’t for him,” Reaves said.

Dunbar said that his life deserves to be honored and celebrated every day.

As for Jonathan Krueger’s family, they feel his absence at every holiday and family gathering, and it has been difficult to find closure in his passing. However, with the legal side hopefully finding an end, there may be some sort of peace at last.

Mary Krueger said that she cannot help but feel like she carries her son with her every day.

“It doesn’t take much to have him pop into mind. Between his brothers and sister and six little grandchildren, I see a lot of Jonathan pop up in their personalities,” she said. “There’s always reminders, and I try to treat that in a good way … That he’s with us in a lot of different ways.”