Metzger, a Philadelphia native, died March 15 in Wichita, Kan., from injuries sustained in a car accident. Police say Metzger died trying to save others.
Metzger, who moved to Kansas last year, and three friends were out for St. Patrick’s Day and hired a transportation service so they could celebrate safely. Police say the driver, 39-year-old Andrew Montgomery, suffered a major medical event at the wheel and was rendered unconscious, which may have caused the car to speed forward, up to 80 miles per hour.
Police say Metzger, who was sitting in the front seat, along with lone survivor Janell Henderson, 34, took control of the wheel to avoid hitting another car, resulting in their vehicle striking a median and becoming airborne, hitting a wall and catching fire. Henderson was ejected and the four others were killed on impact.
News of Metzger’s death spread quickly throughout the local LGBT community, where she had been an active figure.
Metzger is a 2006 graduate of Central High School and a 2010 graduate of the University of the Arts.
Friend and classmate Brianna Miller met Metzger during their first day of ninth grade, and the pair had been inseparable since.
“She came in with a broken leg and I asked her why her leg was broken and she told me she was in a mosh pit,” Miller said. “She lent me $2 for lunch that day and I never paid her back until our college graduation.”
Miller said Metzger’s smile was bright enough to light up a room.
“Everybody loved her immediately,” she said. “She walked into that class with crutches and a giant cast and a big old smile on her face.”
Sophia Clark met Metzger at UArts when they worked as resident assistants. Clark, a junior at the time, said she wasn’t looking to make more friends — but then she met Metzger.
“She and I instantly clicked on emotional, intellectual and artistic levels,” Clark said.
Metzger was known for her love of music — including her talent for singing and playing the guitar and ukulele.
“Jes was a musician. Not in the ‘broody-hateful-songwriting-musician’ kind of way but in the ‘music is life and fills me up and lifts my spirit, and I love it so I do it’ sort of way,” friend Amanda Mae Hall said. “ It got her through some tough times when she was younger.”
“She just loved music. She loved playing the guitar,” Miller added. “She did everything. She was always looking for new adventures.”
Metzger’s outgoing personality benefitted her in her bartending experience.
She worked as a bartender at ICandy from March 2011-March 2013 and was one of the first females hired.
ICandy bartender Charlotte Ellis said Metzger seemed shy at first but came into her own when she started working during the ladies’-night event Temptress Tuesdays.
“She was there in the very beginning and it didn’t seem like she would last,” Ellis said. “She eventually warmed up to every single person and really blossomed. They put her behind the bar with me and it was her second gig ever behind the bar. It was kind of nice. We would have conversations about everything.”
Sydney Roseberry said she and her friend Katie met Metzger during one of her shifts. Noticing a flirtation between the two, Roseberry encouraged her friend to leave Metzger her number on their receipt.
“Looking back, it seems silly, but boy I’m glad I said that,” she said. “Had I not, she may never have formed a wonderful relationship with my best friend, and I would have never gotten the opportunity to create an amazing best friendship with her.”
Tara Beth Robertson had been working at ICandy when she met Metzger.
“She was incredibly smiley,” she said. “She was smiling all the time and a very talkative, super-sweet girl.”
Robertson said Metzger was a favorite among patrons at ICandy and said she loved to flirt with customers.
“She was really flirtatious, especially with some of the gay guys. She thought they were the cutest,” she said. “She was really sweet to everyone and called everybody ‘babe.’ I remember a couple of times, she would bring my favorite candy into work because she knew I loved it.”
Miller said being with Metzger at ICandy was like being with a celebrity.
“She would take us to ICandy on her days off and she knew everybody. We never had to wait in line,” she said.
Metzger was also a frequent face at other neighborhood bars.
“I got to know her on a personal level,” said Tabu bartender Josh Schonewolf. “She was always so happy and optimistic, and would walk into Tabu smiling. The staff really loved her.”
Long before she was a popular figure in the Gayborhood, Metzger was a “tenacious” yet quiet child with big dreams, according to her mother, Michelle Metzger.
“She was so smart,” Michelle said. ”She was very loving and logical. She always knew what to say.”
Michelle and her husband, Robert, encouraged their daughter to be unique.
“We just let her be the person she wanted to be,” her mother said, noting that, while the family struggled at times, Metzger was always looking forward. “We were very poor — but we had a lot of love — but she didn’t let anything like that stop her from doing things.”
Metzger was an established athlete, playing soccer and basketball and was the only girl on an all-male football team.
She came out to her parents during her first year of college.
“We always told her we just wanted her to find the right person to love,” Michelle said. “We wanted her to have a soul mate no matter what. It didn’t matter.”
Metzger moved out of the city last summer after completing her Air Force basic training. She was employed as a KC-135 crew chief at the Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas before moving to another base in Kansas. She worked as a crew chief and also as a bartender at Our Fantasy Complex.
Metzger’s father, Robert, spent nine years in the Air Force.
“I think she felt a lot of pride in me for doing that and I guess she looked up to me for doing that,” he said. “I think that steered her to think about going into the military.”
Metzger originally planned to become a helicopter pilot but was turned down because of her height. But because she had attained her college degree, she was offered the opportunity to become an officer. She decided to go through enlistment first and then transfer as an officer.
“She wanted to show people that she was climbing the ladder up,” Robert said.
Outside of her budding military career, Metzger’s passions were diverse and, in addition to music, included literature, politics and history, caring for her cat and relaxing with a drink of Jameson or Yuengling.
Clark and Metzger did freelance modeling for photographer Kathy McLean’s “You Are Not Alone” project, aimed at providing support for LGBT people who don’t feel represented in the community.
Clark said Metzger’s loyal friendship reached many people and her heroic last act took no one by surprise.
“There’s more than a few of us who call her ‘best friend’ because that’s how much love she had, and her loyalty knew no boundaries,” she said. “She’s someone whose influence I always want in my life. My life feels less without her in it.”
Roseberry added that Metzger was an inspiration to innumerable people.
“Her loyalty to her friends was so pure and unconditional,” she said. “She taught me so much in the short time we got to spend together, but what sticks out the most for me is her drive to do the right thing in every situation. She just had the biggest heart I have ever experienced in a person. Everyone that was close to her was impacted by her and I think we all strive to be better people, be more proactive in the community and keep her legacy alive through the things that mattered to her the most.”
A memorial fund has been set up to help the family with services. For more information or to donate, visit http://www.gofundme.com/welovejes.
A fundraiser to help with memorial costs will take place from 2-10 p.m. March 23 at ICandy. Admission is $5, and all proceeds wil go towards the Metzger family and to support causes Metzger supported.
A funeral will be held at Hubert M. McBride Funeral Home, 2357 E. Cumberland St. A date was not set by presstime.