One year later friends, family mourn for Jonathan Krueger

Cheyene Miller

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Mary Krueger awakened at about 4 a.m. one day last April to the local police at her door. They told her that her son Jonathan Krueger, a UK student and Kentucky Kernel photo editor, was killed about two hours earlier in Lexington.

Mary Krueger still remembers the day she found out her son died and, even though life without him has been painful, still remembers the joy he brought into the lives of his friends and family.

Jonathan made the most out of every day, whether it was pulling stunts on his bicycle or smiling his way out of a sticky situation.

The Perrysburg, Ohio, native was known among his friends and family for having a “live-life-to-the-fullest” attitude. His family said they try to honor him by living his life’s philosophy.

“(Jonathan) had a motto of living with no regrets,” said William Krueger, Jonathan’s older brother who lived with him in Lexington at the time of his shooting death in April 2015.

The youngest of four children, his family said his death left a hole they still feel a year later.

“It just kind of hits you at different times,” his sister Liz Krueger Roberts said. “I just have the urge to send him a message or picture, (and) it hits you again that he’s not there to be able to talk to you.”

Mary Krueger said he had a smile that brightened the room wherever he went, which reflected his optimistic outlook on life.

“I’ve gotten notes from total strangers … they talked about his smile,” Mary Krueger said. “That smile got him out of chores — it got him … extensions on homework assignments. It worked to his advantage a lot, (but) it was genuine.”

As Jonathan’s family continues to mourn him, they must wait until March 2017 to see the men charged with his murder face trial.

In a bond hearing on Feb. 5, Fayette County Circuit Judge Ernesto Scorsone denied bail to Justin Delone Smith and Efrain Diaz Jr., two of the men charged with Krueger’s shooting death, because they could face the death penalty for the murder charges and bail is typically denied in such instances.

This was the first time Mary Krueger was in the same courtroom as the men charged with her son’s death. 

“I don’t know what to expect. I don’t know what to think,” Mary Krueger said in the days leading up to the bond hearing. 

Scorsone set bail for Roman Gonzalez Jr. at $1 million because Gonzalez was a minor at the time of the crime and is facing life in prison, not the death penalty.

All three suspects were charged with murder and first-degree robbery. Smith was also charged with tampering with physical evidence, and fleeing and evading police.

Jonathan was killed at about 2 a.m. April 17 on East Maxwell Street while walking home with his friend Aaron Gillette. Police said a red or maroon van with a sliding door pulled up to them, and two individuals exited with handguns.

The two assailants held Jonathan and Gillette at gunpoint and demanded their money and their valuables. Police said Jonathan and Gillette complied. After handing over their money and their watches, police said the armed individuals demanded more, at which point a physical struggle ensued.

Gillette told police he grabbed the closest assailant’s gun and raised it above their heads, causing several shots to be fired. Gillette then slammed the individual against the van before fleeing the scene. He said he did not see what happened to Jonathan.

Police found Jonathan’s body lying in the street upon arrival. He was killed by a gunshot to the chest, according to the Fayette County coroner.

All three men have been in jail since April 2015. Smith and Diaz admitted involvement in the crime but told police Gonzalez was the one who pulled the trigger.

For Gillette, these details are still vivid, and the year since the tragedy has been a process of slow recovery. 

“It’s been a long year … and it’s been a short year,” Gillette said. “Every day is obviously a struggle.”

Gillette lives with William Krueger and said Jonathan’s memory is present throughout the house. William Krueger occasionally displays some of Jonathan’s tendencies and personality traits, Gillette said.

“The house that we’re in now is the one that Jon picked out,” Gillette said. “I still imagine walking through and him showing us the house.”

Aside from living with William Krueger, Gillette has been in contact with some of Jonathan’s friends from Ohio. But he has not kept regular contact with the Krueger family.

“One of the most difficult things of my life, aside from the actual accident, was telling them about the accident,” Gillette said. “I know they appreciate me and I know they appreciate that I’m still with Will … but I don’t want them to be reminded every time that I come up. And that’s what I know I am to them.”

The duo met when Krueger rushed Beta Theta Pi fraternity, and Gillette was Krueger’s mentor through the rush process. Gillette said Krueger turned the tables on him during the initial questioning phase with the charisma and charming personality his friends and family loved.

Gillette said not a day goes by where he doesn’t think about the events of the night Jonathan died and the last time he saw his close friend.

“Sleeping still doesn’t come easy,” Gillette said. “I contribute a lot of success with grieving to the book ‘A Grief Observed’ by C.S. Lewis. That book helped me find peace.”

The book written by Lewis, also famous for “The Chronicles of Narnia” series, details Lewis’ personal experience with grief after his wife’s death due to cancer. It details the process of grief, including periods of confusion and anger, and brings into account larger issues of faith and the ability to move on with one’s life.

As Jonathan’s friends grow older and graduate from UK, his family and Gillette said his legacy will live on through his work at the Kernel, as well as the scholarship established in his name.

“(Krueger) was always willing to help others. A lot of people looked up to him,” said Michael Reaves, current Kernel photo director and the inaugural recipient of the Jonathan Krueger Memorial Scholarship. “He was a leader. He had a great attitude, and never said no, and was very selfless.”

Former Kernel photographer Jonathan Palmer and his wife, Danielle, a former Kernel writer, established a GoFundMe account for the scholarship. The account raised more than $30,000 in 11 months — $14,200 of which came in the initial three days following his death.

“We all think about leaving a legacy in college … but with him, every year someone’s going to have a scholarship in his name. So his legacy of being selfless and being a leader and (having) a positive attitude … will continue five, 10, 15, 30 years down the road,” Reaves said. “His spirit will live through the people that get the scholarship.”

Jonathan’s outlook on life is evident in the final status update he posted to Facebook on his birthday, April 12, 2015: “Looking ahead there’s so much to be happy about and if this next year is anything like this last year, then it will be another one to remember!”

April 17 marked the one-year anniversary of his death at the age of 22.