A yoga and meditation teacher living in Minneapolis was fatally shot by city police Saturday night after she called 911 to report a possible assault in the alley behind her home.
The woman was identified by family in local and Australian news reports as 40-year-old Justine Damond, a native Australian who studied to be a veterinarian in Sydney before moving to Minneapolis to be with her fiance. The couple planned to marry next month.
Damond’s call for help came in just before 11:30 p.m. Saturday, according to a news release from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Two Minneapolis Police Department officers went to an alley near her home in the Fulton neighborhood, a popular area on the city’s southwest side.
“At one point an officer fired their weapon, fatally striking a woman,” the statement said.
But the BCA offered few other details on what precipitated the shooting and, it said, neither responding officer had turned on their body cameras before the shooting. The squad car camera did not capture the incident either. Investigators are looking into whether other video of the shooting exists, the statement said.
All Minneapolis police officers have worn body cameras since the end of 2016, according to the city, a policy decision that was announced in July 2016, same month a black motorist named Philando Castile was fatally shot by a police officer in the Twin Cities area.
“We all want to know more. I want to know more,” Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said during a news conference Sunday afternoon. “I call on the BCA … to share as much information as they can as quickly as they possibly can.”
In a series of statements since Saturday, Hodges has called the shooting a “tragic incident” and said she has questions about why the officers’ body cameras were not turned on.
“Tonight, I’m sad, and disturbed,” Hodges, who represented the Fulton area as a city council member, wrote on Facebook Sunday night. “This is a tragedy—for the family, for a neighborhood I know well, and for our whole city. … There is a long road of healing ahead, and a lot of work remains to be done. I hope to help us along that path in any way I can.
“But right now, I’m sad, disturbed, and looking for more answers, like many of you.”
Authorities told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that the officers have been placed on paid administrative leave, which is standard procedure in officer-involved shootings.
Three people “with knowledge of the incident” told the Star Tribune that the responding officers pulled into the alley behind Damond’s home. The woman, wearing pajamas, approached the driver’s side door and was talking to the driver, reported the Star Tribune. The officer in the passenger seat shot Damond through the driver’s side door, the three people told the newspaper.
“Basically, my mom’s dead because a police officer shot her for reasons I don’t know,” Zach Damond, Justine Damond’s stepson, said in a video posted to the Women’s March Minnesota Facebook page. “I demand answers. If anybody can help, just call the police and demand answers. I’m so done with all this violence.”
The 22-year-old man said that Damond heard a sound in the alley so she called police “and the cops showed up.”
“Next thing I know, they take my best friend’s life,” he said.
Another woman in the video, Bethany Bradley with Women’s March Minnesota, said police were not being transparent or sharing information with the family. She also lives in the Fulton area.
Justine Damond’s birth name was “Ruszczyk” but she had already taken the last name of her fiance, Don Damond, 50. He was away on a business trip when the shooting occurred.
Both Damonds taught meditation and spirituality classes at the Lake Harriet Spiritual Community center.
Justine Damond attended high school in Australia and graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Veterinary Science degree in 2002, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Her personal and business website says she was a qualified yoga instructor, meditation teacher and a personal health and life coach.
The website says Damond’s “interest in supporting people to heal and transform themselves developed after she saw family members suffer greatly from depression, alcoholism and cancer.”
It continued: “After losing much of her family to cancer she has spent many years on a personal investigative journey to discover how habits and disease develop, and how people can change and live in joy, expressing their full potential.”
The Minneapolis NAACP, three mayoral candidates and about 250 other friends, family and community members attended a vigil Sunday night held at the place where Damond was shot.
“Many of us who have been on the front lines have been warning the public, saying if they would do this to our fathers and our sons and our brothers and our sisters and our mothers, they will do it to you next,” said Nekima Levy-Pounds, one of the candidates and a civil rights attorney.
“I really hope that this is a wake-up call for this community to stop allowing things to be divided on the lines of race and on the lines of socio-economic status.”
Damond’s stepson called her a “very passionate” person. And other friends and neighbors at the vigil called her a “peaceful, lovely woman” who loved animals and helping others.
“This woman was a beautiful light,” Bradley said at the vigil. “She was a healer. She was loved. And she should be alive. She should still be here.”
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