A father, his son and a suburban Minnesota community are grieving after the unexpected death of the woman so many have described as kind, spiritual and caring.
Justine Ruszczyk Damond, originally from Sydney, Australia, was shot and killed by a Minneapolis police officer on July 15 after her family members say she called 9-1-1 to report a potential ongoing assault in an alley. When the two officers arrived on scene, one of them pulled out his gun and shot her dead.
Justine was engaged to marry her fiancee and longtime boyfriend Don Damond, a 50-year-old executive at a casino, and have Don’s 22-year-old son Zach as her stepson.
Instead, the family has been ripped apart, and the two are searching for answers.
According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Don and Justine were set to be married in August.
“She’s such a kind woman,” a friend named Hannah said of Justine to the newspaper. “She took me in when I was in a tough situation and helped me with whatever I needed.”
A community vigil was held in the neighborhood in the evening July 16 and was attended by about 250 friends and neighbors.
Here’s what you need to know about Don and his son Zach:
1. Ruszczyk Called Police to Report an Assault & Was Shot While She Was Wearing Her Pajamas
The state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said in a statement that two officers from the Minneapolis Police Department responded to Justine’s call of a possible assault near their home around 11:30 p.m. July 15. When officers arrived, one of them shot and killed Justine.
The BCA’s investigation is in its early stages. More information will be available once initial interviews with incident participants and any witnesses are complete. … The officers’ body cameras were not turned on at the time and the squad camera did not capture the incident. Investigators are attempting to determine whether any video of the incident exists.
Further details on her death weren’t released by the BCA and they are investigating the incident.
Three unidentified sources told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that officers pulled into an alley to check up on the reported disturbance. The sources indicated that when police arrived, Damond, who was dressed in her pajamas, was at the driver’s side door of a vehicle talking to the driver.
The officer that was sitting in the passenger seat of the patrol car pulled his gun and shot her through the driver’s side door. No weapons were located on the scene, authorities said.
Police have said that the officers didn’t have their bodycams on at the time of incident, adding they are searching for any possible video footage and are interviewing witnesses for more details on what happened during the stop.
2. Zach Called His Future Stepmother his ‘Best Friend’
According to the Twin Cities Pioneer Press, Zach said his future stepmother called police for assistance after hearing a noise near their house.
Zach posted an emotional video to Facebook shortly after Justine was pronounced dead and demanded answers for the death of his “best friend,” encouraging people to contact the police department in his search for a reason Justine was shot and killed.
Watch the video of his plea below, but beware that some of his comments contain profanity:
My mom is dead because a police officer shot her for reasons I don’t know. These cops need to get trained differently. I just know she heard a sound in the alley, so then she called the police, and the cops showed up…next thing I know, they take my best friend’s life.
3. Don Is the Vice President at a Casino & Is a Musician
According to Don’s LinkedIn account, he’s the vice president and general manager of Little Six Casino in Prior Lake, Minnesota. He started in the role back in February 2013 and has been in it ever since.
The casino is owned and operated by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. As the VP and GM, Don is “responsible for the property strategic planning, overall profitability, financial budgeting, marketing strategy, customer service strategy, food and beverage operations, Tribal, State and Federal regulatory compliance” at Little Six, his profile says.
Prior to working at Little Six, he was the director of gaming operations at Mystic Lake Casino and Hotel. It’s a position that he held for almost 12 years. He was responsible for the 800 people that worked at the casino and directed the operations of three departments.
In addition to those roles, Don plays the electric bass when he has spare time.
“I currently work with colleagues on recording projects,” his LinkedIn profile said. “I continue to write my own music and am recording a CD of my original music.”
Don went to Normandale Community College and then graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.
4. The Family Was Active in Yoga & Don Taught Classes
Justine often went by the name Justine Damond professionally, even though her and Don weren’t married yet. She was a meditation teacher and yoga instructor for the Lake Harriet Spiritual Community in Minnesota. The business 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.
In February 2016, Justine went back to Australia and Don filled in for her, a message posted to Lake Harriet’s website said at the time.
“As a long-time meditator, yoga practitioner, and leader of men’s groups, Don’s desire is to facilitate community around spiritual principles,” the website said of Don’s abilities.
Lake Harriet has a Coordinating Council that is made up of volunteers that are “dedicated to helping manage and grow” the community, its website says. Don is the current treasurer on the board.
5. Zach is in College & Has Worked as a Media Specialist
According to Zach’s Facebook page, he’s originally from Savage, Minnesota and lives in Minneapolis. He’s pursuing an environmental studies degree at the University of Minnesota, Morris and is part of the Class of 2018.
Previously, Zach worked for Los Tacos and also at the Stevens Community Medical Center, his Facebook profile says. He’s currently a media specialist intern at REcharge Labs, a school for K-12 students and educators to “become the innovative renewable energy leaders of tomorrow by offering effective hands-on activities and kits, educator professional development” and more, its website states.
In 2015, Zach, who spent time as a photographer, won the 2015 Morris Break Photo Contest.
Zach has a YouTube channel where he posted two videos about the school, demonstrating his multimedia abilities.