Nikki Salgot had a message: she wasn’t broken. Even though she had suffered the heartbreaking loss of her fiancé, she was still going to take her wedding photos. They would just look a little different – portraits of a woman left alone but not without hope.
Originally, though, Salgot and her beau, Collin Rose, had begun their journey to the altar on May 12, 2016. On that day, Rose had got down on one knee after a memorial bike ride held during National Police Week. He had attended that event to lend support because he, too, was a police officer at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.
And the couple hailed from St. Clair Shores, a city just north of downtown Detroit. Salgot worked at the Detroit Dog Rescue, a no-kill animal shelter; when Rose wasn’t patrolling the university, meanwhile, he was studying for a graduate degree in dispute resolution.
What’s more, according to his fiancée, Rose was a stand-up guy. Indeed, when speaking to People in 2017, Salgot described him as being “an amazingly kind-hearted, generous, do-anything-for-anyone kind of person.” She added, “He always brought out the best in people.”
Even so, Salgot went on, “[Rose] always swore he’d never get married. The joke was [that] he was the most ineligible eligible bachelor out there.” Once Rose took the plunge and proposed, though, his mindset completely changed. “He was actually probably more excited to get married than I was,” his bride-to-be explained.
So, the pair set a date for their ceremony – October 14, 2017 – and anxiously awaited the walk down the aisle. Fate would get in the way of that moment, though, when Salgot received the news that all police officers’ families dread.
Although Rose worked for Wayne State University, his unit could participate in activities away from campus as part of the Detroit police force. So, after a string of car break-ins took place nearby, he responded to a call about a suspicious cyclist in the targeted area on November 22, 2016.
Rose also asked for back-up as he approached the person of interest; by the time his fellow officers arrived on the scene, though, the young cop was on the ground. He had been shot in the head and was barely clinging to life.
Then the responding officers put Rose into the back seat of their car and raced him to the hospital. And while the young cop made it through a subsequent surgery, he tragically took a turn for the worse the day after the shooting. Rose died from his injuries on November 23.
And upon hearing of Rose’s passing, his fiancée could barely believe the news. She told People, “I was in shock and disbelief. I remember feeling my mouth swell and go dry, my hands go cold and sweaty and my face go pale.”
Salgot added, “It took several hours before it fully hit me and the emotional breakdown took over.” And it would be almost a year after that moment that she would feel ready to honor the life – and death – of her fiancé.
Understandably, Salgot found herself drifting back into grief as her October 14, 2017, wedding date crept closer. The young woman was determined not to lapse back into despair, however, so she came up with a plan to commemorate what should have been a happy occasion for her and Rose.
And the 29-year-old contacted her former classmate, Rachel Heller, who just happened to be a wedding photographer. But while Salgot envisioned photos of herself in her wedding dress, she didn’t desire the end result to be typical bridal portraiture. Instead, she wanted to honor her fallen husband and show what should have been.
Furthermore, Heller agreed to the shoot, although she later told Today that she had felt trepidation on the way to the appointment. “I remember being in tears on the way there, thinking, ‘How am I going to do this? How am I going to find a way to take photos that will do this justice, not just for her but for him?’” she explained in 2017.
But when Heller arrived at the wooded location of the photo shoot, she knew she had made the right choice. Heller added to Today, “When [Salgot] got out of the car, it was clear as day. She was the picture of grief and resilience and strength and vulnerability and authenticity, all at once.”
To honor her late fiancé, Salgot had brought along a few mementos of Rose’s service and sacrifice. She had a folded American flag, his police cap and his badge – items that represented the reasons why she wanted to do the shoot in the first place.
Then, Heller rapidly edited the photos, and Salgot shared them on Facebook on October 16 – two days after what would have been her wedding day. Along with the pictures, she wrote, “[Heller] captured images that still vividly show the pain left behind.”
And Salgot revealed to The Detroit News in 2017, “I wanted to take the photos because I still loved Collin. Our plans were taken, but my love was not.” It was with this attitude that she produced a series of touching images that show a range of emotions: happiness, sadness and strength.
But that wasn’t all – Salgot also lauded the “images that show I am still able to laugh, smile and be me; images that show this loss has not and will not destroy me; and my favorite, images that show I am still just as fierce as ever and refuse to let this define me.”
Rose’s former fiancée continued, “It is a chapter in my book, a very tough one. It was always a known and accepted possibility – just one I never saw coming.” However, Salgot promised that she would move forward instead of stagnating in her grief. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and I will not be broken by this,” she said.