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Bride-to-be called 911 for help and was fatally shot by a Minneapolis police officer

  • Author: Pat Pheifer, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
  • Updated: 5 days ago
  • Published 5 days ago

Justine Damond, also known as Justine Ruszczyk, from Sydney, is seen in this 2015 photo released by Stephen Govel Photography in New York. Courtesy Stephen Govel Photography/Handout via REUTERS

MINNEAPOLIS — A 40-year-old woman who family members said called 911 to report a possible assault in the alley behind her home Saturday night was fatally shot by a Minneapolis police officer.

The shooting happened at the end of the alley in the city's Fulton neighborhood.

The woman, Justine Damond, from Sydney, Australia, and her fiancé lived in a home on the alley.

Three sources with knowledge of the incident said Sunday that two officers in one squad car, responding to the 911 call, pulled into the alley. Damond, in her pajamas, went to the driver's side door and was talking to the driver. The officer in the passenger seat pulled his gun and shot Damond through the driver's side door, sources said. No weapon was found at the scene.

"Two Minneapolis police officers responded to a 911 call of a possible assault just north of the 5100 block of Washburn Avenue S. just before 11:30 p.m. Saturday," the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said in a news release. "At one point, an officer fired their weapon, fatally striking a woman.

"The BCA's investigation is in its early stages. More information will be available once initial interviews with incident participants and any witnesses are complete. … The officers' body cameras were not turned on at the time and the squad camera did not capture the incident. Investigators are attempting to determine whether any video of the incident exists."

Authorities have not released the woman's name, but it was confirmed by people at the scene.

Minneapolis police confirmed that the two officers involved are on paid administrative leave, which is standard procedure.

The shooting was called "tragic" by Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, who held a news conference about it at City Hall late Sunday afternoon, appearing with assistant Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo and Linea Palmisano, who represents the 13th Ward on the City Council.

"I am heartsick and deeply disturbed by the fatal officer-involved shooting that happened last night," Hodges said.

"I know the neighborhood well," said Hodges, who represented the area for eight years as a City Council member.

"We have few facts at this point," she said. "I want to know more. I call on the BCA to share as much information with all of us as quickly as they can.

"I have questions about why the bodycams weren't on," she said.

Arradondo confirmed that the officer bodycam program is fully rolled out in Minneapolis but declined to say more about why there is no footage of the shooting.

Zach Damond, 22, whose father, Don, 50, was to be married to Justine in August, arrived at the scene with a close family friend about 11:30 a.m. Sunday. While the couple were not yet married, Justine referred to herself as Damond on her personal website. Her maiden name was Justine Ruszczyk.

"Basically, my mom's dead because a police officer shot her for reasons I don't know," Zach Damond said, referring to Justine. "I demand answers. If anybody can help, just call police and demand answers. I'm so done with all this violence."

Damond said Justine called police after she "heard a sound in the alley."

He left the scene at noon Sunday to go to the airport to pick up his father, who had been on a business trip.

From her home in the middle of the block, Justine Damond would have had to walk a little more than 100 yards to get to the end of the alley.

There are three lights mounted on telephone poles along that route plus nine motion-detector lights on garages, and neighbors said the alley is well-lit at night.

A woman named Hannah, who came to the scene with Zach Damond and is a close family friend, said Justine was a "spiritual healer." Hannah, 21, did not want her last name used for safety reasons.

"I don't know what she was doing out," Hannah said. "She's such a kind woman. She took me in when I was in a tough situation and helped me with whatever I needed.

"They were just so in love," Hannah said of Justine and Don Damond. "I'm just kind of in disbelief."

At a community vigil in the neighborhood on Sunday night, about 50 friends and neighbors held hands in a semicircle around the spot where Damond fell, while another 200 or more people watched from the sidewalk and the street.
Some sobbed.

"This woman was a beautiful light," said Bethany Bradley of Women's March Minnesota, who had been at the scene since Sunday morning. "She was loved. She should still be here.

Friends and neighbors of Justine Damond held hands as a vigil to remember began Sunday evening, July 16, 2017 in Minneapolis. (Jeff Wheeler/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS)

"It's OK to cry, it's OK to scream," she said. "Share what you're feeling."

Leslie Redmond of the Minneapolis NAACP said she and other members of the NAACP who attended "stand in solidarity with the family."

Nekima Levy-Pounds, one of three mayoral candidates who attended, said, "I hope and pray this is a wake-up call for the community to stop being divided by race and socioeconomic status … for treating everybody with respect."

Dustin Johnson and his wife, Roz, live across the street from Justine and Don Damond. They saw the flashing lights and walked over to see police trying to resuscitate Damond as she lay on the ground.

Johnson said he heard no gunshots.

Justine Damond's website says she "originally trained as a veterinarian" and "has also studied and practiced yoga and meditation for over 17 years, is a qualified yoga instructor, a personal health and life coach and meditation teacher, embracing and teaching the neuro-scientific benefits of meditation."

She attended high school in Sydney. The story of her death was front-page news in Australia.

Earlier Sunday, someone drew colorful chalk hearts on the driveway pad where Damond was shot, adding names of others, including Jamar Clark and Philando Castile, who were fatally shot by police. A few hours later, Hannah, an artist, added "Live in love not fear" to the drawings.

Hannah said there's no way Damond would have had a gun. She often talked about how much better it was in Australia, where people aren't allowed to have guns, Hannah said.

Staff writers David Chanen, Libor Jany and Erin Adler contributed to this report.

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