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Relatives of Australian Justine Damond demand answers

July 18, 2017

Damond's death has reignited debates on American gun culture and police power. The victim's family and friends continue to demand why an officer shot Damond as she stood in her pajamas in an alley next to her home.

Justine Damond Trauer Anteilnahme
Image: picture alliance/dpa/J.Wheeler

Justine Damond's death is an "American Nightmare," the front page of Sydney's The Daily Telegraph said on Tuesdsay morning. 

Her hometown newspaper is not alone in expressing shock over the death of the 40-year-old Austrialian woman who was fatally shot on Saturday night by a Minneapolis police officer.

Read more: Indian man's death in US bar shooting triggers outrage in India

The yoga and meditation teacher had called 911 to report what she believed was a sexual assault in an alley near her home in the middle-class neighborhood of Fulton in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She was reportedly dressed in her pajamas when shot and killed by Mohamed Noor.

Read more: US police say black shootings, protests make job riskier and more difficult

Other publications have pressed for the many unanswered questions surround Damond's death to be clarified. The Australian, a broadsheet daily, and The Sydney Morning Herald, a compact daily, both highlighted the words of Damond's father, John Ruszczyk, who on Tuesday said there was an "ugly truth" behind his daughter's death.

"Justine was a beacon for all of us," Ruszczyk added in his statement to reporters. "We only ask that the light of justice shine down on the circumstances of her death."

Read more: Doctor suspected in New York hospital shooting

What happened?

The victim's fiancé, Don Damond, told reporters on Monday that the family was being "kept in the dark" by law enforcement about what happened on Saturday night when Justine Damond was killed.

Justine Damond in New York
Australian Justine Damond was engaged to be married in August Image: Reuters/Stephen Govel Photography

Authorities have yet to reveal substantial details relating to Damond's death, but they have confirmed that Noor and another officer had been responding to an emergency call about possible sexual assault.

Police have referred all questions to the state's Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), which is investigating the shooting. BCA has said they would provide more information after interviewing the officers, who are the only known witnesses. The BCA also said Monday that no weapons were found at the scene.

According to The Star Tribune - citing three people with knowledge of the shooting it did not name - officers pulled into the alley in a squad car and Damond talked to the driver. The newspaper's sources said the officer in the passenger seat shot Damond through the driver's-side door, while Damond was in her pajamas. BCA has not confirmed the reports.

What triggered prompted the officer to shoot remains unknown.

Read more: Police in Germany kill more than you think

Condolences from the officer

Police violence in Chicago

Noor, a Somali-American who has been on the police force since March 2015 according to a city newsletter, was identified by his lawyer Tom Plunkett as the man who fired the lethal shots. Plunkett delivered a statement from Noor that offerred the officer's condolences to the victim's family and friends. 

Noor "joined the police force to serve the community and to protect the people he serves," Plunkett said from the statement. 

Noor was reportedly sued after a May 25 incident in which he and other officers took a woman to hospital on a mental health hold. Television station KSTP reported that city records show Noor had three complaints on file.

Another police shooting

Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau said on Monday the death was "tragic," adding that she has "many of the same questions" as Damond's family and community members are asking about the shooting.

The incident has thrust the persistent and heated issue of American police violence, race, and gun culture into both the Australian and American limelight.

"The country is infested with possibly more guns than people," Philip Alpers, a University of Sydney expert on comparative gun regulations, told AP. "We [Australians] see America as a very risky place in terms of gun violence - and so does the rest of the world."

The Australian government's webpage with advice for travelers heading to the US also warns Aussies to watch out for gun crime.

Meanwhile, some American organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, were quick to highlight that fact that the Minneapolis officers' body cameras were not turned on and that a squad car camera did not capture the shooting.

Last year, 32-year-old Philando Castile was killed by an officer during a traffic stop in a nearby suburb. The shooting was recorded by Castile's girlfriend and streamed on Facebook Live. The officer was cleared of wrong-doing. 

In 2016, a North Carolina police officer shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott in an incident that was captured by the officer's boy camera.

And in November 2015, a Minneapolis police officer shot and killed Jamar Clark during a struggle in which, according to the officer, Clark grabbed his partner's weapon.

cmb/ (AP, dpa)