Sydney life coach Justine Damond called 911 about a noise in the back alley. Police turned up. Then they killed her, point blank.
AMERICAN police will today try to explain why an unarmed Sydney woman was gunned down in her pyjamas by officers after calling 911 for help.
Two police officers have been stood aside pending an investigation over the death of Justine Damond outside her affluent Minneapolis home. The former northern beaches life coach was just weeks away from getting married to an American businessman.
She made the fateful call about 11.30pm after hearing “a possible assault”.
US media reported she was speaking to police through the door of their patrol car when she was killed by at least one shot from the two officers who responded. Their body cameras were not switched on and the car’s dashboard camera did not capture the incident.
A SYDNEY woman just weeks away from her wedding was shot dead by police in her adopted new hometown in America’s Midwest after calling 911 for help.
The devastated family and friends of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, 40, yesterday demanded a federal investigation into how she died in her pyjamas late on Saturday night.
Ms Damond had called for help after hearing what police said was “a possible assault” in a lane outside her home in southwest MinneTHE apolis. She was killed at 11.30pm by at least one shot from the two officers who responded to the call.
Local media reported she was still in her pyjamas and speaking through the door of their patrol car when she was shot.
The alley was described as well-lit, but according to sources the officer sitting in the passenger seat pulled his gun and shot Ms Damond through the driver’s side door. No weapon was recovered at the scene.
It is understood the officers’ body cameras were not turned on at the time and the police car’s dashboard camera also did not capture the incident.
A crowd of more than 100 gathered at a vigil yesterday to remember the corporate speaker and meditation teacher, who moved from Sydney’s northern beaches three years ago and was to marry US businessman Don Damond, 50, next month.
“This woman was a beautiful light,” neighbour Bethany Bradley said.
“She was a healer, she was loved, she should be alive — she should still be here.”
Damond’s soon-to-be stepson Zach posted a poignant video about the mystery death of his “best friend”, a woman who had previously spoken out about America’s gun culture.
“Basically my mum’s dead because a police officer shot her for reasons I don’t know,” he said. “America sucks.”
The two officers involved in the shooting were immediately placed on administrative leave while the local Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigates.
Don Damond, the vicepresident of Little Six Casino, was away on business when his partner was murdered, and arrived at their home yesterday afternoon.
A family friend, who only wanted to be identified as Hannah, described the couple as “just so in love”.
Among the many questions Damond’s family asked yesterday were why the officers’ cameras weren’t turned on. Activists were among the mourners outside the Damond home yesterday, and they quickly linked her name with other high-profile victims of police shootings.
Large love hearts were chalked onto the driveway near where Damond fell, along with the names Jamar Clark and Philando Castile, whose killings at the hands of police sparked protests and marches.
Hannah, 21, who said she
was a friend of Zach’s, echoed the questions of many.
“I don’t know what she was doing out,” Hannah told the Star Tribune newspaper.
“She’s such a kind woman. She took me in when I was in a tough situation and helped me with whatever I needed.”
She also said there was no way Ms Damond would have had a gun and that she had often talked about how things were better in Australia because of strict gun ownership laws.
Zach Damond described his future stepmother — who had already changed her surname on her business website ahead of her looming wedding — as “a very passionate woman”.
“I just know she heard a sound in the alley so then she called the police and the cops showed up and she was a very passionate woman,” he said. “She probably thought something bad was happening and then next thing I know they take my best friend’s life. “I demand answers.” At the Ruszczyk family home in Freshwater yesterday neighbour Julie Reed said Ms Damond’s relatives were yet to hear from the police in Minneapolis.
“This is a very difficult time for the Ruszczyk family. They are trying to come to terms with this tragedy and to understand why this has happened,” Ms Reed said.
“She was treasured and we will really miss her. She was a veterinarian surgeon, qualified, and she went overseas and she worked spiritually to heal other people with their medical problems in the United States.”
Sydney lifecoach Alison van Vuuren, who taught Ms Damond a form of counselling called EFT, said it was an “absolute tragedy”.
“I can’t get my mind around how that would have happened,” she said.
“She practised EFT to help other people relieve their own trauma and pain.”
Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges questioned why the officers’ cameras weren’t filming and vowed to get answers on behalf of Damond.
“As mayor of our city, a wife, and a grandmother, I am heartsick and deeply disturbed by what occurred last night,” she said.
‘There are still many questions about what took place and, while the investigation is still in its early stages, I am asking the BCA to release as much information, as quickly as they are able to.”
Minneapolis Police Department policy does not allow for deactivation of police body cameras “for an arrest, DUI, Use of Force, traffic stop or a ‘Significant Incident’.” The cameras are designed to activate automatically when officers respond to an incident.
This woman was a beautiful light. She was a healer, she was loved, she should be alive — she should still be here Neighbour Bethany Bradley
To most Australians, the recent surge in police shootings across the US was obviously concerning but at the same time a remote issue, far from Australia’s shores. That view has changed now with the fatal shooting by police of Sydney woman Justine Ruszczyk Damond in the suburb of Fulton, Minneapolis. Details of exactly what occurred are still emerging, but judging by initial accounts the 40-year-old who previously lived in Manly had done everything right in the minutes before the shooting.
Apparently aware of a possible assault near her home late on Saturday night, Ms Ruszczyk Damond had called the US police emergency line 911. Then, when a police car arrived at the scene, Ms Ruszczyk Damond approached the vehicle. She was wearing pyjamas and, according to all current reports, presented absolutely no threat at all to the two armed officer.
Indeed, it seems that Ms Ruszczyk Damond was precisely the opposite of threatening. She’d called police to actually assist them.
According to US media reports, Ms Ruszczyk Damond was shot by the officer furthest from her, in the vehicle’s passenger seat. A bullet reportedly went through the driver’s side door before fatally wounding her. It is not known what provoked the shot, if in fact anything did. For Ms Ruszczyk Damond’s stepson Zach, the mystery is understandably agonising. “Basically my mom’s dead because a police officer shot her for reasons I don’t know,” Zach told a Minneapolis newspaper.
“I demand answers. If anybody can help, just call police and demand answers. I’m so done with all this violence. America sucks.”
Local civil rights attorney and police reform activist Nekima LevyPounds joined many in slamming Damond’s “tragic and senseless death”, which Levy Pounds said “illustrates everything that is wrong with our system of policing in the US”.
“For years, activists and community members have raised concerns about the ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ mentality among some police officers,” Levy-Pound continued. “Beyond that, police officers have routinely escaped accountability for perpetuating violence against civilians and have been allowed to kill with impunity. Justine Damond is the latest casualty of a flawed system of policing that is urgently in need of being overhauled.”
As part of a response to concerns over shootings, Minneapolis police were recently equipped with personal bodycams. The two officers involved in Saturday night’s shooting are said to have been wearing their cameras — but they were turned off during the fatal confrontation. There is clearly a great deal more to emerge from this seemingly inexplicable shooting. Until every fact is available, we can only share the pain and distress expressed by Minneapolis mayor Betsy Hodges. “As mayor of our city, a wife, and a grandmother, I am heartsick and deeply disturbed by what occurred last night,” she wrote online.
Australian woman Justine Ruszczyk Damond with fiance Don Damond, and (left) Zach Damond speaks out after her death in a Facebook video.
(Clockwise from above) a vigil for Ms Damond, police at the scene, police visit the victim’s family in Freshwater. 11.30pm: Two police officers respond in the alley off West 51st St between Washburn and Xerxes Ave Saturday night (local time): Sydney...