'She Was Crying Out for Help,' Say Parents of Teenage Girl Fatally Shot by Two Police Officers
"Our daughter needed help, not violence," Elizabeth Coignard tells PEOPLE about her daughter Kristiana, who was shot and killed by police
The parents of a mentally ill 17-year-old girl, who was fatally shot by two police officers in Texas, say they’re going to do everything in their power to get her the justice she deserves.
Kristiana Coignard walked into the lobby of the Longview Police Department at about 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 22 in Longview, Texas.
She picked up a lobby phone that rings directly to police dispatch and said that she needed an officer.
The incident, which has now been released on video and viewed more than 800,000 times, shows Coignard being confronted by three officers, and shot by two.
“It’s very clear that she was asking for help,” her mother, Elizabeth, 42, from San Antonio, Texas, tells PEOPLE. “She didn’t walk into that police department looking to hurt anyone.”
Elizabeth says that just a few hours before she was killed, her daughter texted her.
“She said how much she loved me. She seemed fine,” she says. “Kristiana was so excited for her future.”
Although the family won’t elaborate on her mental condition, they admit that she was taking medication daily and was going to counseling.
“Whenever she felt like she needed help, she would reach out,” she says. “She would pack her backpack with the things that meant the most to her and bring it with her.”
When Kristiana walked into the police station, she was wearing that backpack.
“Those police officers easily could have calmed her down or restrained her,” she says. “They didn’t have to do what they did. That was my baby girl.”
“Every day after school she would come home and bring me a fresh-picked flower because she knew how much I loved them,” says Elizabeth of her daughter. “She would walk into the house and say, ‘Mom, I brought you a new flower.’ ”
Her father, Erik, 43, says there’s one memory he will cherish forever.
“She bought me tickets to go to the ballet with her own money,” he tells PEOPLE. “And she also bought herself a dress and shoes. She was so proud to have done that all on her own. We had the most amazing night.”
The Coignard family has hired a lawyer as they try to get all the facts of what took place.
“We are trying to piece together what happened that day,” lawyer Tim Maloney tells PEOPLE. “And if anything good can come out of this, it’s going to be that we improve the mental-health system.”
Maloney and the family want to stress to people that officers need to have background training in crisis intervention.
“Without that training, a tragedy like this is sadly going to happen again,” he says.
Longview residents are also speaking out and about 60 members of the community held a protest on Feb. 7 outside of the police department, the Longview News-Journal reports.
“I know they’ve got a tough job, but a 100-pound girl they can’t take a baton to her ribs? And just to shoot her four times?” David Glenn, of Longview, told the newspaper. “I’m surprised there’s not more people here.”
Kristiana “did not deserve to die,” local resident Matthew Sherman told the newspaper. “Maybe she’s lost. Maybe she doesn’t know what is going on. She needed somebody to talk to her. Why should we be a-feared of the law? They are supposed to be here to serve and protect us.”
Longview Police Department public information officer Kristie Brian tells PEOPLE the case is “still an ongoing investigation.” She added, “But she was holding a knife in a threatening matter.”
In a press release on Jan. 28, the police department said that Kristiana was shot four times after they tried to use a taser that had no effect.
After the incident, all three officers were placed on leave, but since then, one has returned to work.
The investigation of Kristiana’s death, which has been ruled a homicide, is now being handled by the Texas Rangers, a division of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
“We just want people to know how great she was,” her mom Elizabeth says. “She was the person who took care of people when they were sick. She was loving and caring and this shouldn’t have happened.”