The family of a woman who was shot and killed by Minneapolis police made a desperate plea Monday for information regarding the last moments of her life.
Justine Ruszczyk called 911 on Saturday night because she thought a sexual assault was taking place in a back alley near her home, her fiancé, Don Damond, said in a news conference Monday.
After Minneapolis police arrived, an officer shot and killed Ruszczyk. That’s all the family knows, Damond said. Police still haven’t explained how, or why the shooting occurred.
“Sadly, her family and I have been provided with almost no additional information from law enforcement regarding what happened after police arrived,” Damond said.
“We’ve lost the dearest of people and we are desperate for information. Piecing together Justine’s last moments before the homicide would be a small comfort as we grieve this tragedy.”
‘Working to learn more’
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety is handling the case. The shooting happened as two Minneapolis police officers responded to a 911 call reporting a possible assault shortly before 11 p.m., Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said.
The officers were wearing body cameras, but they were not turned on during the incident, the mayor said. Per department policy, body cameras are supposed to be turned on prior to use of force “as soon as it is safe to do so” or during “any contact involving criminal activity.”
“As mayor of our city, a wife, and a grandmother, I am heartsick and deeply disturbed by what occurred last night,” Hodges said Sunday. “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.”
Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau echoed the mayor’s concerns. She said the department has requested an expedited external, independent investigation to ensure transparency.
The Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office has not released Ruszczyk’s autopsy report.
Shock in Australia
Ruszczyk was originally from Australia, though she was a US citizen because her father holds US citizenship, a source who knew her said.
Her death made headlines across Australia. The country’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it is providing consular assistance to the woman’s family.
Ruszczyk had lived in the United States since April 2014, and was living with her fiancé at the time of her death, the source said. They were planning to marry in August.
“It is difficult to fathom how to go forward without her in my life,” Damond said Monday. “Our hearts are broken and we are utterly devastated by the loss of Justine.”
‘She was a healer’
According to her website, Ruszczyk trained as a veterinarian and later became a yoga instructor and life coach. She worked at the Lake Harriet Spiritual Community in Minneapolis.
Nancy Coune, an administrator with the Lake Harriet Spiritual Community, described Ruszczyk as a “gifted speaker” who imparted a message “of love and peace and non-violence.”
“Justine was dedicated to helping others make transformations in their lives, through teaching and coaching. She was an amazing leader for bridging the gap between science and spirituality in a way that was easy to understand and fun. She had a great joy for spiritual growth that inspired those around her,” Coune said in a statement.
“While this is a tragic event, Justine would want us to use this opportunity to develop greater love and compassion for each other, and look to find solutions by thinking differently.”
On Sunday, members of Women’s March Minnesota honored her in a vigil. Chalk drawings on the driveway where they gathered said she would be remembered as “a loving woman, a light to everyone.”
“This woman was a beautiful light. She was a healer, she was loved. She should still be here,” one woman said to applause.
“This should not have happened … that could’ve been me, that could’ve been you, that could’ve been you, that could’ve been any of us,” she added. “And we’re gonna talk and we’re gonna work as a community to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”