Like others who knew and loved Justine Damond, her father is remembering her as a “beacon” of light as he grapples with the mystery of her shooting death by Minnesota police last weekend.
Speaking Tuesday from Sydney, John Ruszczyk said his family was facing up to the reality of Damond’s death on Saturday night. Authorities have said she was shot by responding police after calling 911 to report a possible assault nearby.
“We thought yesterday was our worst nightmare, but we awoke to the ugly truth and it hurt even more,” Ruszczyk said. “Justine, our daughter, was so special to us and to so many others.”
“We went down to Freshy beach this morning and saw the blackness change to light,” Damond’s father continued.
“Justine was a beacon to all of us,” he said. “We only ask that the light of justice shine down on the circumstances of her death.”
Damond’s shooting death made international headlines, leaving many open questions. What triggered the gunfire remains unclear, as does the reason why the officers’ body cameras were not turned on.
A 40-year-old yoga and meditation instructor from Sydney, Damond was shot and killed after a pair of Minneapolis police officers responded to her home Saturday about 11:30 p.m., authorities said.
She died from a gunshot wound to the abdomen, the medical examiner said.
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“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” she was not involved in.
Investigators have reportedly said no weapons were found at the scene.
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.
Speaking Monday, Don said Justine had called 911 to report “what she believed was an active sexual assault occurring nearby,” the Star-Tribune reports.
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.
According to local media, Damond was set to marry her fiancé, Don Damond, in August and she had already publicly taken his last name.
“Piecing together Justine’s last moments before the homicide would provide small comfort as we grieve this tragedy,” he said.
Both Noor and his partner have been placed on administrative leave as the BCA investigates, a Minneapolis police spokesman told PEOPLE. Noor’s attorney could not be reached for comment.
Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said in a statement 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.”