Deona Marie Knajdek Erickson was the Minneapolis woman killed when a driver plowed an SUV into protesters. Knajdek was protesting the fatal police shooting of Winston Smith. She was killed and three other protesters were injured during the June 13, 2021, incident in the Minnesota city. Nicholas Kraus has been identified as the driver.
Erickson, 31, was a mother of two young daughters, her brother told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The other victims of the incident suffered non-life-threatening injuries, police said on Twitter. The driver is in custody, Minneapolis Police said in a statement on Twitter.
According to Minneapolis Police, the incident happened about 11:40 p.m. as protesters were gathered at Lake Street and Girard Avenue. Few details have been released by police so far. On Monday, June 14, the department said no further updates were expected that day. Erickson was taken to a local hospital after the crash, where she was pronounced dead, according to police.
Erickson Had Positioned Her Car to Protect Other Protesters
Erickson’s brother, Garrett Knajdek, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “She was using her car as a street blockade, and another vehicle struck her vehicle and her vehicle struck her. She (was) constantly sacrificing herself for everyone around her. No matter the cost, obviously.”
One protester wrote on Twitter, “if it wasn’t for deona marie’s car being positioned the way it was, we would’ve all been dead or seriously injured. the white supremacist that killed her wanted a lot more of us dead but her car saved us. rest in paradise, deona. please look down on us and be our guardian angel.”
Another added, “I can’t get over the fact that Deona Marie lost her life while simultaneously saving all of ours. If her car wasn’t parked where is was he would’ve ran through the entire crowd. Rest in peace Deona.”
Visual Black Justice Minneapolis tweeted, “Deona Marie used her car to shield protesters during the #WinstonSmith protest uptown Minneapolis which resulted in savings MANY lives tonight. We can never repay her for the sacrifice she made, but we will honor her Monday night.”
A witness tweeted, “A protester got hit by a car and 10 squad cars showed up with cops in riot gear before a single ambulance. Street medics performed CPR and resuscitated her. Community apprehended the driver. Cops just showed up and threatened everyone with mace, arrests, and rubber bullets.”
Activist Aisha Chugtai tweeted, “In the immediate aftermath, street medics + protesters jumped into action—apprehending the driver and administering emergency first-aid. By contrast, an ambulance arrived long after police reinforcements in riot gear. The people took care of one another—the police did not.”
The Minneapolis Police Department has not responded to criticism about its response to the incident. The department said in a press release, “At 11:39 pm on Sunday evening, Minneapolis Police were monitoring a protest in the area of West Lake Street and Girard Avenue South when they observed, on camera, a vehicle traveling eastbound on Lake Street and drive into a group of protesters. Additional squads were called to the scene as were several ambulances.
The department added, “Protesters pulled the suspect from the vehicle and, from reports of witnesses, began to strike the driver. Officers arrived and took custody of the driver.”
The department added, “Crime Lab personnel responded to document the scene and collect evidence. Homicide detectives are involved and working with the Minneapolis Police Department’s Traffic Investigative Unit. Preliminary investigation indicates that the use of drugs or alcohol by the driver may be a contributing factor in this crash.”
The Minneapolis Police said in its press release, “Anyone with information is encouraged to call CrimeStoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477). Tips may be submitted electronically at www.CrimeStoppersMN.org. All Tips are anonymous and persons providing information leading to an arrest and conviction may be eligible for a financial reward.”
Witness Zachariah Hill-Smith told KSTP-TV, “He sped up and went like 80 miles an hour and he smacked the car so hard it flipped. And the guy jumped out and started running and everybody chased him and grabbed him. No one deserves to go out like that. No one. It hurts, it really, really does hurt a lot to see a good person die the way she died.”
Another witness, DJ Hooker, told Minnesota Public Radio, “A car came at us going like 70 or 80 miles an hour. There was one line of barriers and then a second barrier, and he sped up. He sped up. He went even faster as he approached us. You could hear it … start going even faster as he got close to us.” He said the SUV hit a parked car, and “The car went through the air and it hit a young woman.”
Erickson’s Brother Says She Was ‘the Most Wonderful Person You Could Ever Imagine’
Erickson’s brother, Garrett Knajdek, told KARE-TV, “She was probably the most wonderful person you could ever imagine. She would in the most literal sense tear the shirt off her back to make sure someone was warm. No matter how dark her life was and how bad things got, she was doing everything she could to take care of somebody else and provide for them.” He said he is, “still trying to process the fact that my sister, my lifelong friend is gone.”
He added, “No matter what she was doing, whether people agree with it or disagree with it, they need to understand that she was my sister and she was somebody’s daughter and she was a hero to a lot of people… and just have some respect for that no matter if you agree with her views or not. verybody has their opinions and you should stand up for them no matter what they are, and she should be an example for everybody to do something better with the world.”
Her mother, Deborah Marie Kenney, wrote on Facebook, “Here is my beautiful, brave, funny everything daughter Deona Marie . Today she was taken from us while supporting another families cause. The details are in the news and on social media which I have not watched. It has only been 2 hours from the notification and it already feels like a life time. God has you now sweet Poke. I love you too the stars and back abagazillion times.”
According to her Facebook page, Erickson was born in Pine City, Minnesota, and lived in Minneapolis. She worked as a program manager at The Cottages Group, a home health care service.
The Cottages Group wrote on Facebook, “Today The Cottages Group lost a member of their management team, Deona Erickson. We are shocked and deeply saddened by the news of her passing. She was a Program Manager who dedicated her time to overseeing two of our community residential sites, she put her heart into her work. She was one of the most selfless people we have had the pleasure of knowing, she earned the respect and trust of those she served because of her true compassion for her work. She will be deeply missed by those she served and served with. Our prayers go out to the family, friends and those who had the pleasure of knowing such a kindhearted woman.”
The company added, “A magnolia tree symbolizes magnificence. It’s flowers representing nobility, dignity, and perseverance. To honor her legacy as the amazing human being she always was, we will be planting a magnolia tree at each of the locations she served in remembrance of her magnificent presence we all had the pleasure of being blessed with.”
Erickson Was Looking Forward to Celebrating Her Birthday & 1 Year of Sobriety
Erickson recently posted on Facebook on June 12, “This coming up week we shall forever call ‘Deona In The Making week.'” She included a photo of a calendar with Wednesday, June 16, marked down as her 32nd birthday and Friday, June 18, as the celebration of being sober for one year.
“This last year, she finally started to blossom and be an adult,” Garrett Knajdek told WCCO-TV. “She was doing good. She had two daughters that she was finally getting back in touch with…building strength. This just…took her away.”
He told Minnesota Public Radio, “She demonstrated it last night. She does everything for everybody else that she possibly can. Everything has always been sacrifice for her, you know, what can she do to help someone else, no matter what situation she’s in. “he was very passionate about people. Sometimes the causes were not always agreed upon, but she always stood up for what she wanted, and would sacrifice anything if she believed in it.”
Erickson Posted Often About Black Lives Matter, Attending Protests & Wrote About Winston Smith, ‘We ARE Going to Get Change for You & All the Others’
Erickson posted often about participating in Black Lives Matter protests. She wrote about Smith on June 12, “Today my heart is with your family, friends, your children and other loved ones.. Today you get to rest… you wanted to see a change and I really think you were the man to start that change.. I’m sorry… 💔 but we ARE going to get change for you and all the others, we will get justice, you changed the world while you were here and in your name a lot more change is still to come. Rest in Power Winston Smith.”
On June 10 she wrote on Facebook, “You protested because it was trendy and ‘everyone was doing it’ I protest because people are out here dying‼️ I promise you we are NOT the same.”
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said in a statement, “The right to peacefully assemble and protest is a cornerstone of our democracy. Last night’s tragic events resulted in the loss of a community member exercising that fundamental right and the injury of several others. We are keeping the victim’s family and friends close as they grieve the loss of a loved one.”