The fatal shooting of yoga instructor and life coach Justine Ruszczyk has led to an outpouring of grief and tributes, in her home country and the Minneapolis community she had made her home.
Originally from Australia, Ruszczyk’s death, at the hands of a Minneapolis Police Department officer, has made headlines in her native country.
Ruszczyk called police Saturday night to report a possible sexual assault in an alley near her home, her fiancé, Don Damond, said in a news conference Monday.
Two police officers responded and one of them — who had served only two years on the force — shot the 40-year-old in the abdomen, killing her, according to police and the autopsy released Monday.
“The death of Justine is a loss to everyone who knew her. She touched so many people with her loving and generous heart,” Damond said Monday.
“Our lives are forever changed as a result of knowing her. She was so kind, and so darn funny. She made us all laugh with her great wit and her humor.”
Her father gave an emotional plea for justice Tuesday.
“Justine, our daughter was so special to us and to so many others,” John Ruszczyk told journalists in Australia, reading from a prepared statement.
“We went down to (Freshwater) beach this morning and saw the blackness change to light.
“Justine was a beacon to all of us. We only ask that the light of justice shine down on the circumstances of her death.”
Due to marry next month
Ruszczyk had lived in the US since April 2014, a source who knew her said. She quit her career as a veterinarian to become a spiritual healer after losing her mother to cancer, CNN’s Australian affiliate Seven News reports.
As an animal lover, she continued to volunteer at a local dog shelter, Secondhand Hounds, colleagues told CNN.
She was living with Damond at the time of her death, and they were planning to marry in August. She had already adopted his surname professionally.
Ruszczyk had dual citizenship in the US and Australia because her father holds US citizenship, the source said. Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it is providing consular assistance to her family.
Tributes pour in
Ruszczyk grew up in the Freshwater suburb of Sydney, and attended nearby Manly High School, and later Sydney University. She reviewed books for a Sydney neighborhood newspaper, the Manly Daily, the Australian Daily Telegraph reported.
It quoted a former colleague from the newspaper, reporter Rod Bennett, who spoke to her warmth and humor.
“We became good friends and often shared a laugh,” Bennett said. “She had a terrific sense of humor and we immediately hit it off as mates,” he said. “This has shocked me. I will miss her.”
Julia Reed, a longtime neighbor and family friend of Ruszczyk, spoke to Australian media on behalf of the slain woman’s family.
“She undoubtedly will be very missed by the family,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion. “She was treasured and loved, and we will really miss her.”
‘Like a mother’
Ruszczyk was equally loved in her adopted hometown of Minneapolis, and liked and respected professionally.
Nancy Coune, an administrator with the Lake Harriet Spiritual Community where Ruszczyk worked, described her as “inspirational” and a “gifted speaker.” She conveyed a message “of love and peace and non-violence,” Coune said in a statement obtained by CNN.
“Justine has an energy and care that allowed me to feel safe from the moment I walked in,” a testimonial on her website, attributed to a wellness consultant named Jo Grabyn says. “Working with Justine changed my life in ways I never thought possible.”
Soon after she died, Ruszczyk’s stepson Zach Damond took to social media, expressing anger at the man who killed his “best friend.”
“My mom is dead because a police officer shot her for reasons I don’t know, and I demand answers,” he said in a video posted to Facebook, wiping tears from his eyes.
On Sunday, members of Women’s March Minnesota honored her in a vigil near the scene of her death. Tributes were written in chalk across the pavement, while candles were lit and flowers placed at a makeshift memorial. One sign reads: “Why did you shoot and kill our neighbor and friend?”
“This woman was a beautiful light. She was a healer, she was loved… She should still be here,” one woman named Bethany 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.
Divergent views on guns
Ruszczyk “hated” America’s gun culture, according to one Australian media report, but moved to the country to be with Damond.
Australia severely restricted private gun ownership in 1996, just 12 days after 35 people died at the hands of a lone gunman wielding a military-style semi-automatic rifle at a popular tourist spot in Tasmania.
High-caliber rifles and shotguns were banned, licensing was tightened and remaining firearms were registered to uniform national standards — an accomplishment regarded by many in the country as then Prime Minister John Howard’s enduring legacy.
In the years after the Port Arthur massacre, the risk of dying by gunshot in Australia fell by more than 50% — and stayed there.