A Minneapolis police officer fatally shot an Australian woman on Saturday night after she approached the officer’s cruiser while wearing her pajamas, according to local news report.
Australian media confirmed Sunday that Justine Ruszczyk, 40, was killed in an officer-involved shooting over the weekend. It appears Ruszczyk most frequently went by the name Justine Damond, even though she was not yet legally married. Don Damond was engaged to be married to the victim, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
U.S. and Australian authorities have not publicly identified the victim and few details were immediately provided about the incident. The Hennepin County Medical Examiner told HuffPost that the agency could confirm the death of a Justine Ruszczyk, but could not release the cause of her death.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed that a citizen of the country had been killed, but declined to identify her until her family had been notified, according to a statement obtained by HuffPost Australia. The agency said it would be providing consular assistance to her family.
Don Damond confirmed the victim’s identity to Minnesota Public Radio.
Zach Damond, who identified himself as the woman’s future stepson, said in a video posted to Facebook that she was killed after calling 911 to report a sound in the alley behind her home.
When police responded to the call sometime after 11 p.m., Justine Damond, who was wearing her pajamas, went outside to talk to the officers and approached the driver’s side window. The officer in the passenger seat then pulled out his gun and shot through the driver’s side door, striking Damond, sources familiar with the incident told the Star Tribune. No weapon was found at the scene.
“Basically my mom’s dead because a police officer shot her for reasons I don’t know,” Zach Damond said in a video posted to the Facebook page for Women’s March Minnesota. “I demand answers. If anybody can help, just call police and demand answers. I’m so done with all this violence.”
Posted by Women’s March Minnesota on Sunday, July 16, 2017
Minneapolis police faced intense pressure on Sunday after authorities admitted there was no footage of the incident.
The state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said body cameras worn by the officers involved were “not turned on at the time and the squad camera did not capture the incident.” The agency said it was looking to see if any other video was taken.
Since 2016, Minneapolis has required all officers to wear and activate their body cameras “at all times when they could reasonably anticipate that they may become involved in a situation for which activation is appropriate,” before any contact with a citizen.
Betsy Hodges, the mayor of Minneapolis, said she had “questions about why the bodycams weren’t on,” and was “heartsick and deeply disturbed by what occurred.”
“There are still many questions about what took place, and while the investigation is still in its early stages, I am asking the BCA to release as much information, as quickly as they are able to,” Hodges said in a statement. “My thoughts are now with everyone affected by this tragic incident, especially the deceased woman and her family.”
Both of the police officers involved in the shooting are on paid administrative leave, the Star Tribune reports.
Vigils took place on Sunday around the home of the victim, at times drawing upwards of 200 people, journalists at the scene reported. Neighbors gathered outside Justine Damond’s house told local news outlets they were “shocked” by the event, with some linking the incident to other officer-involved shooting in Minnesota in recent years.
The Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area was rocked by another police shooting last year, when an officer fatally shot Philando Castile in the suburb of St. Anthony, just miles from the scene of Saturday night’s incident. The officer faced charges in the death of Castile, who was black, but was acquitted last month. He has since left the St. Anthony police department.
Members of the Minneapolis NAACP spoke at the vigil Sunday, telling attendees that Damond’s death was a reminder that police violence is an issue that can affect any community, regardless of race or socioeconomic class.
“It’s time for us to have empathy for one another; it’s time for us to recognize we are the human race and it shouldn’t have to be in our own backyard for us to pay attention,” said Leslie Redmond, second vice president of the Minneapolis NAACP. “I’m not a 40-year-old white woman. However, I am a daughter ― I could only imagine how I would feel if this was my mother. I recognize her humanity.”