Australian Bride-to-Be Fatally Shot by Minnesota Police After Calling 911 to Report Possible Assault
Justine Damond was shot by police near her Minneapolis home after she called 911 to report a possible assault
In August, Justine Ruszczyk was reportedly set to marry Don Damond, and she had already publicly taken his last name.
But instead of a future celebration, Justine’s fiancé was left Monday mourning his bride-to-be, who was shot dead by a police officer near her home in Minneapolis on Saturday night after she called 911 to report a possible assault.
“We lost the dearest of people and are desperate for information,” Don told reporters on Monday afternoon after returning from a business trip, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
“Piecing together Justine’s last moments before the homicide would provide small comfort as we grieve this tragedy,” he said.
Justine, a 40-year-old yoga and meditation instructor from Sydney, was shot and killed after a pair of Minneapolis police officers responded to her home Saturday about 11:30 p.m. authorities said.
“At one point an officer fired their weapon, fatally striking a woman,” the state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is now investigating, said in a statement. According to the BCA, police were responding to a 911 call — apparently the one placed by Justine — about a “possible assault.”
What triggered the gunfire remains unclear, as does the reason why, according to the BCA, the officers’ body cameras were not turned on.
Investigators said no weapons were found at the scene, the Star Tribune reports.
A friend of Justine’s told the New York Times that she had moved to the U.S. from Australia about three years ago because Don could not move to her. In a statement released by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Justine’s family shared their confusion and grief, according to NBC News:
“This is a very difficult time for our family. We are trying to come to terms with this tragedy and to understand why this has happened.”
The officer who shot Justine has not been publicly identified by police, but he was named as Mohamed Noor by both local media and his attorney, Tom Plunkett.
“We take this seriously with great compassion for all persons who are being touched by this,” Plunkett said in a statement, according to local TV station WCCO.
“Officer Noor extends his condolences to the family and anyone else who has been touched by this event. He takes their loss seriously and keeps them in his daily thoughts and prayers. … We would like to say more and will in the future,” Plunkett said. “At this time however, there are several investigations that are ongoing.”
Don’s son, Zach, looking visibly distressed, offered his own version of events in a video posted to Facebook on Sunday.
“My mom is dead because a police officer shot her for reasons I don’t know,” he said. “She heard a sound in the alley, so then she called the police and the cops showed up and … then next thing I know they take my best friend’s life.”
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Speaking Monday, Don said Justine had called 911 to report “what she believed was an active sexual assault occurring nearby,” the Star-Tribune reports.
“Sadly, her family and I have been provided with almost no information from law enforcement regarding what happened after police arrived,” he said.
According to audio of the emergency dispatchers later posted online, police were told just before 11:28 p.m. that there was a “female screaming behind the building.”
Noor and his partner responded to the call and pulled into an alley where Damond approached them in her pajamas to explain her call, the Star-Tribune reports, citing police sources.
As Justine was speaking with the officer in the driver’s seat, Noor allegedly fired on her from the passenger seat — shooting her through the driver’s side door — according to the newspaper.
Both Noor and his partner have been placed on administrative leave as the BCA investigates, a Minneapolis police spokesman tells PEOPLE. Noor’s attorney could not immediately be reached for comment.
Chuck Laszewski, a spokesman for the prosecutor in Hennepin County, Minnesota, says they will wait on the results of the state’s investigation, which could take several months.
“They would forward criminal file to the attorney’s office and we will review it and make a decision on whether to [bring charges] or not,” he says.
In various tributes and news stories, Justine has been described as a “beautiful light” and “spiritual healer” who was full of kindness. On her website, Justine said she “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.”
“Our lives are forever changed as a result of knowing her,” Don, Justine’s fiancé, said during brief remarks to the media on Monday outside his home.
“She was so kind and so darn funny, she made us all laugh with her great wit and her humor,” Don said. “It is difficult to fathom how to go forward without her in my life.”
Minnesota’s governor, Mark Dayton, did not comment on the shooting, according to the Star Tribune, but Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said that she was “heartsick and deeply disturbed,” and she singled out the fact of the body cameras being off.
“There are still many questions about what took place,” she said, “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 Chief Janeé Harteau echoed that in a statement of her own, according to the Star Tribune: “I have many of the same questions and it is why we immediately asked for an external and independent investigation into the officer-involved shooting death.”
“I also want to assure you that I understand why so many people have so many questions at this point,” Harteau said. “I’ve asked for the investigation to be expedited to provide transparency and to answer as many questions as quickly as we can.”
• With reporting by HARRIET SOKMENSUER