Justine Ruszczyk Damond, the Australian woman who was shot and killed by a Minneapolis police officer after family members say she called 911 to report a potential assault, was a well-liked motivational healer about to be married.
Justine Damond – the name she used professionally – was in her pajamas and had approached a police cruiser that responded to her 911 call when Officer Mohamed Noor is accused of shooting her through the driver’s side window. The officers’ body cameras were not turned on. Noor was in the passenger seat.
Noor is the first Somali-American police officer in his precinct and an immigrant to the U.S. His lawyer said in a statement that Noor regarded police work as a “calling.” Damond was shot multiple times, the television station reported. Noor, 31, had only been on the force since 2015.
Justine was engaged to marry Don Damond, who is vice president and manager of Little Six Casino in Minnesota. On LinkedIn, Justine defined herself as a “Speaker, Coach & Consultant for Neuroscience & Meditation Based Change Initiatives.” Her heartbroken fiancee praised her sense of humor and kind spirit and said he’d been given almost no information from police about what happened.
On the about me section of her website, Justine Damond quoted Emerson: “Live in the Sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air!” She focused her life on healing after losing family members to cancer, she wrote on her website. Her motto on social media? “Meditate. Evolve. Create.”
The 40-year-old woman’s shooting was labeled “deeply disturbing” by the mayor of Minneapolis, Betsy Hodges, who told The Minneapolis Star-Tribune that she was “heartsick” over the shooting.
The shooting unfolded on Saturday, July 15. It comes as tensions are still heightened over police shootings in Minnesota because of the recent acquittal of the police officer who shot and killed Philando Castile in a traffic stop a year ago. Justine’s shooting was a top story in her home country of Australia.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is demanding answers in Damond’s shooting, calling it “inexplicable” and referencing the fact that Damond had called 911 herself to report a possible crime in the alley behind her house.
“How can a woman out in the street in her pyjamas seeking assistance from the police be shot like that?” Turnbull asked, according to ABC Australia. “It is a shocking killing, it is inexplicable.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Justine Ruszczyk Called 911 to Report an Alley Assault, Family Members Say & Was Shot in Her Pajamas
One of the details that is troubling people close to Justine is that family members say she is the person who called police in the first place, and it was to report a crime. You can read transcripts of Justine’s two 911 calls to police here. They show that Justine told a dispatcher she thought she heard a woman screaming for help and feared the woman was being raped. She called back a second time to make sure police were coming and, both times, the dispatcher assured Justine that “help” was on the way.
“We are trying to come to terms with this tragedy and to understand why this has happened,” her family said in a statement. Her fiancee, Don Damond, said in a news conference that she had called to report a potential sexual assault.
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is investigating the shooting, released its most detailed accounting of it yet on July 18. BCA identified Justine Damond as Justine Ruszczyk; Damond was the name she used professionally. BCA identified the officer in the squad’s driver’s seat as Matthew Harrity, 25, a one-year veteran of the force. He did not fire his weapon.
“BCA agents interviewed Officer Harrity earlier today,” BCA wrote on July 18. “Officer Noor has declined to be interviewed by BCA agents at this time. Officer Noor’s attorney did not provide clarification on when, if ever, an interview would be possible.”
According to the BCA’s preliminary investigation, “officers Harrity and Noor responded to a 911 call from a woman now identified as Ruszczyk of a possible assault near her residence just after 11:30 p.m. Saturday. Officer Harrity was driving. Officer Noor was in the passenger seat. The officers drove south through the alley between Washburn and Xerxes avenues toward West 51st Street in search of a suspect. All squad lights were off.”
As they reached West 51st Street, continued BCA, “Officer Harrity indicated that he was startled by a loud sound near the squad. Immediately afterward Ruszczyk approached the driver’s side window of the squad. Harrity indicated that Officer Noor discharged his weapon, striking Ruszczyk through the open driver’s side window. The officers immediately exited the squad and provided medical attention until medical personnel arrived. Ruszczyk was pronounced dead at the scene. Both officers have been placed on standard administrative leave.”
Officer Harrity told investigators “that the officers saw an 18-25 year old white male who was bicycling eastbound on West 51st Street immediately before the shooting. This individual stopped at the scene and watched as the officers provided medical assistance to Ruszczyk. BCA agents would like to speak with this person, and anyone else who may have witnessed the incident. These individuals are asked to contact the BCA at 651-793-7000.”
Crime scene personnel recovered a cell phone near the victim, BCA reported, adding, “No weapons were recovered.”
“Body cameras were not turned on until after the shooting incident. The squad camera was not turned on. Investigators are aware of no video or audio of the shooting. The BCA’s investigation does not determine whether a law enforcement agency policy was violated. That would be reviewed through the agency’s internal affairs process,” continued the BCA.
Dispatch audio shows that there was a report of a female “behind the building.” Then, a report of “shots fired” and “one down.” The audio references that the sound of what may have been aerial fireworks in the area was also heard.
Justine’s soon-to-be stepson said in a video posted online that she heard a noise.
“She called police after hearing a disturbance in the alley and went out to investigate when she was shot,” reported Sydney Morning Herald.
Harrity was allegedly “stunned” when Noor opened fire, KARE11 reported through a source.
Noor’s attorney released a statement to the news media. It said that Noor came to the United States “at a young age” and that police work is a calling to him:
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. He came to the United States at a young age and is thankful to have had so many opportunities. He takes these events very seriously because, for him, being a police officer is a calling. He joined the police force to serve the community and to protect the people he serves. Officer Noor is a caring person with a family he loves and he empathizes with the loss others are experiencing.
The current environment for police is difficult, but Officer Noor accepts this as part of his calling. We would like to say more, and will in the future. At this time, however, there are several investigations ongoing and Officer Noor wants to respect the privacy to the family and asks the same in return during this difficult period.
KTSP reported that Damond was shot multiple times.
The shooting occurred around 11:30 p.m.
Hodges, the mayor, wrote on Facebook, “As Mayor of our City, a wife, and a grandmother, I am heartsick and deeply disturbed by what occurred last night. My thoughts are now with everyone affected by this tragic incident, especially the deceased woman and her family.”
That woman was Justine Ruszczyk, whom many in the meditation community knew as Justine Damond. She wrote on Facebook that she was from Sydney, Australia and was engaged. She was the daughter of a prominent bookstore owner in Sydney.
Twin Cities.com reported that the mayor expressed concern about that fact that body cameras were not on.
KTSP published an investigative piece on July 12 that raised concerns about how little Minneapolis police officers were turning on body cameras.
“Police department records indicate there were 420 officers who worked in March and were assigned a body camera on their shifts,” the story reported. According to the television station, “the body camera policy is complicated, but essentially every officer who wears a body cam must turn it on while responding to critical incidents, traffic stops and domestic disturbances.”
The story noted: “Those records show that on average officers across the city uploaded between 5.2 to 6.1 hours of body camera video footage for the entire month.”
The policy itself defines a critical incident as: “An incident involving any of the following situations occurring in the line of duty: The use of Deadly Force by or against a Minneapolis Police officer; Death or Great Bodily Harm to an officer; Death or Great Bodily Harm to a person who is in the custody or control of an officer; Any action by an officer that causes or is intended to cause Death or Great Bodily Harm.”
From Justine Damond’s home in the middle of the block, she “would have had to walk a little more than 100 yards to get to the end of the alley,” The Star-Tribune reported, adding that neighbors said the alley was well-lit.
2. Justine Taught Meditation & Yoga & Was Originally Trained as a Veterinary Surgeon
Going by the name Justine Damond, Justine ran Tuesday night classes on meditation for the Lake Harriet Spiritual Community in Minnesota, which calls itself “a center for conscious living.”
“Originally trained as a Veterinary Surgeon, Justine has also studied and practiced yoga and meditation for over 17 years, is a qualified yoga instructor, a personal health & life coach (EFT, Theta and Reconnective Healing practitioner) and meditation teacher, embracing and teaching the neuro-scientific benefits of meditation with trainings under internationally renowned neuroscientist Dr Joe Dispenza from What the Bleep,” the site’s bio for Justine reads.
According to LinkedIn, she received a bachelor’s degree in veterinary science from the University of Sydney in Australia.
On Instagram, Justine Damond mostly posted photos of flowers and the sea.
In a statement on Facebook, the Lake Harriet center wrote that Justine was a loving person.
“We are so sad to report the tragic shooting of Justine Damond. Justine was one of the most loving people you would ever meet. We can’t even imagine LHSC with out her,” the center’s post read.
Julia Reed, a long-time friend of Damond’s, told ABC Australia, “She was treasured and loved, and we will really miss her,” and friend Alison Monaghan, who trained Damond, described her as “the most beautiful person” who was “all about giving to other people”.
Damond moved to the United States to “follow her heart,” she told ABC.
3. Justine’s Upset Future Stepson Is Demanding Answers in the Death of the Woman He Calls His ‘Mom’ & ‘Best Friend’
The Star Tribune reported that Justine Ruszczyk was set to be married in August.
Social media indicates she was engaged to Don Damond, whose LinkedIn page says works as a vice president and manager at Little Six Casino, which “is owned and operated by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community as part of the SMSC Gaming Enterprises comprised of Mystic Lake Casino and Hotel and Little Six Casino.”
Before that, he was a professional musician and a casino director of gaming operations. “I didn’t think it was possible to love you more than I already do Don Miller Damond !!!” Justine wrote in the comment thread under one joke post that Don Damond made.
Don Damond told the news media on July 17 that the family’s hearts were broken.
“She was so kind. So darn funny. She made us all laugh with her great wit and her humor. It’s difficult to fathom how to go forward without her,” Don said.
Here’s more video from Damond’s emotional press conference:
Damond’s son and Justine’s future stepson, Zach Damond, has spoken out in the media about the shooting. In a video, he called Justine his “best friend” and “a passionate woman” and alleged she had called 911 for help because she heard a noise. His comments came in a video that Women’s March Minnesota posted to Facebook. Be aware that his comments are graphic in places.
“My mom is dead because a police officer shot her for reasons I don’t know, and I demand answers,” Zach Damond said. “If anybody can help, just call police and demand answers. I’m so done with all this violence. It’s so much bullsh*t. America sucks.”
He added, “These cops need to get trained differently. I need to move out of here. 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, and she probably, she thought something bad was happening. Next thing I know, they take my best friend’s life. So, I’m just done. F*ck the police. Some of you are good, but like I’m just done. I’m so done. This has to stop. This has to stop. That was my mom.”
4. Rallies Ignited Over Justine’s Death With One Friend Recalling Her ‘Profound Message’ & Another Her ‘Highly Evolved Soul’
Activists demanded a federal investigation and held vigils in Justine’s memory on July 16 as word of the shooting spread.
“The city has no excuse for being closed-lipped about this,” said Michelle Gross, president of Communities United Against Police Brutality to Twin Cities.com. “Justine thought there was an assault going on. She was just trying to protect someone. … She was gunned down.”
“My heart is heavy with disbelief at the news that one of our resident speakers at Lake Harriet Spiritual Community, Justine Damond, was shot and killed by police in South Minneapolis late last night. Details are sketchy at this time. Justine spoke at LHSC on July 2nd. She always had such a profound message and loved going ‘down the rabbit hole,'” wrote Ella Davis-Suggs on Facebook.
Friend Angela Pedersen called Justine a “highly evolved soul.”
“I am in shock and disbelief about the passing of Justine Damond last night. Someone I would consider a friend and a highly evolved soul,” she wrote on Facebook. “My heart aches for her fiancé and mother in law who often accompanied Justine while she taught some profound meditation classes, sound healing classes, and her Sunday messages at Lake Harriet Spiritual Community. I am happy to have known Justine and her untimely, tragic death is a reminder to live life fully, love deeply, and take risks to love as we are not promised tomorrow.”
“This woman was a beautiful light,” said Bethany Bradley of Women’s March Minnesota, according to the Star-Tribune.
5. Justine Asked People to ‘Open Your Heart’ on Her Website & Focused on Healing After Cancer Struck Her Family
Justine had a website dedicated to her healing activities.
“Discover your brain. Master your mind. Open your heart,” it reads.
Using the name, Justine Damond, she wrote, “Great advances in science over the last 20 years or so have seen us finally begin to unravel some of the extraordinary mysteries of the human brain and body. Through leading fields such as quantum physics, neuroscience and epigenetics, we are discovering the exquisite intricacies of not only how the brain functions, but also how it interacts with the heart and the body, and most fascinatingly, how it contributes to creating the personal reality we experience as our ‘life.'”
Justine wrote that she focused her life on healing after losing family members to cancer.
“Her interest in supporting people to heal and transform themselves developed after she saw family members suffer greatly from depression, alcoholism and cancer,” the website’s bio reads. “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. Her adventure led her initially away from western medicine, to the world of complimentary/alternative therapies, Mind-Body medicine, and studies in eastern philosophies, consciousness and quantum physics. But eventually she came to rest in the best place of all – right in the middle – where she embraces wisdom and knowledge from many sources.”
She wrote on the website that she had “recently relocated to Minneapolis from Sydney,” and added, “Justine consults to individuals, groups and organisations while exploring the new home of the mid-west USA.”