Breaking News Emails
The grieving father of an Australian bride-to-be shot dead by police in Minneapolis after calling 911 paid tribute to her Tuesday as “a beacon to all of us.”
John Ruszczyk said his daughter, spiritual healer Justine Damond, “was so special to us and to so many others.”
The 40-year-old’s killing has left her grieving family and protesters demanding answers in a city that has just been at the center of another high-profile police shooting.
“Justine was a beacon to all of us,” Ruszczyk told reporters in her hometown of Sydney, Australia. “We only ask that the light of justice shine down on the circumstances of her death.”
Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper reported the killing under the front page headline: "AMERICAN NIGHTMARE."
Damond died of a single gunshot wound to the abdomen shortly before midnight Saturday after calling 911 to report a possible assault, officials have said.
The officer who fired the shot has been identified by his lawyer as Mohammed Noor, who joined the force in 2015 — and was celebrated as the Fifth Precinct's first Somali officer. He was recognized in May 2016 by Mayor Betsy Hodges, who called his assignment a "wonderful sign of building trust and community policing at work." He has two open complaints, from 2017 and 2016.
The lawyer, Tom Plunkett, said in a statement that the officer "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."
Plunkett described Noor, who arrived in the United States as a child, as “a caring person with a family he loves” who “empathizes with the loss others are experiencing.”
The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety said it was investigating, although there appeared to be no video because the officers' body cameras were switched off.
Both officers have been placed on standard administrative leave, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, but police are not confirming the identity of either officer while the investigation continues.
The tragedy unfolded shortly after 11:30 p.m. Saturday local time (12:30 a.m. Sunday ET), when the police officers responded to call about a disturbance in southwest Minneapolis, officials said.
According to local NBC affiliate KARE's sources, Noor shot across his partner, who was "stunned."
Minneapolis Police Department Chief Janeé Harteau said on Twitter that she "acknowledged the pain and frustration that family and community members" felt after the shooting.
Damond, who had already taken her fiance's family name prior to a planned wedding next month, ran meditation workshops at the Lake Harriet Spiritual Community, which in a statement called her “a loved and a respected member.”
“She was a gifted speaker, meditation leader, teacher and transformation coach,” the community said in a statement sent to NBC News by administrator Nancy Coune. “She inspired us with example of how she chose to live her life. She had a great joy for spiritual growth that inspired those around her.”
Damond's stepson, Zach, said she had called the police after hearing a noise near her home.
"My mom is dead, because a police officer shot her, for reasons I don't know, and I demand answers," he said in a tearful Facebook Live video. "I guess she thought that something bad was happening and, next thing I know, they take my best friend's life."
Last July, a suburban Minneapolis police officer fatally shot a black man during a traffic stop that was live-streamed on Facebook. Officer Jeronimo Yanez shot school cafeteria worker and licensed gun owner Philando Castile, 32, in front of his girlfriend and her young daughter, sparking outcry and protests.
Yanez was last month found not guilty of manslaughter and other charges for killing Castile, and was soon after given a $48,500 buyout package to leave the force, prompting more outrage.
Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., said his community was "shaken by yet another unarmed person killed by a Minneapolis police officer."
"Our community is still working to cope with the deaths of Philando Castile, Jamar Clark, and many others. But at the end of the day, our prayers are not enough," Ellison said in a statement.
"We need to confront the reality of so many unarmed people killed by the same officers who swear an oath to protect us. Justine's death shows no one should assume 'officer-involved shootings' only happen in a certain part of town or to certain kinds of people.
"This tragedy, and others like it, will persist as long as our society resists holding our law enforcement accountable," he said.