An Australian family tries to understand why an American police officer killed their daughter
Following the fatal police shooting of an unarmed Australian woman in Minnesota, the story of her death led news sites back home, where friends demanded a federal investigation, and relatives were left searching for answers.
"Tears, confusion after 'peaceful' Australian woman killed by US police," according to Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
"Sydney woman shot dead in US made tough decision after declaration of love," read the headline leading the Sydney Morning Herald site.
"Aussie shot 'multiple times' after 911 call," read the headline atop news.com.au.
Justine Damond (nee Justine Ruszczyk) moved from Sydney to Minneapolis several years ago and was planning to marry her fiance, Don Damond, in the coming weeks. But the 40-year-old bride-to-be, who had already taken her fiance's last name, was fatally shot Saturday night after she reportedly called 911 about a possible assault in the alley behind her home on the city's southwest side.
After police arrived, an officer opened fire, fatally striking Damond, authorities in Minnesota said.
"Basically, my mom is dead because a police officer shot her for reasons I don't know, and I demand answers," her stepson-to-be, Zach Damond, said in a video posted to Facebook.
"I'm so done with all this violence," he said, calling her his "best friend."
"It's so much bull----. America sucks. These cops need to get trained differently. I need to move out of here."
In Australia - where lawmakers have passed some of the world's most restrictive gun-control laws - members of Damond's family said they were trying to make sense of her death.
"This is a very difficult time for our family," the Ruszczyks said in a statement distributed by Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which is providing consular assistance to the family. "We are trying to come to terms with this tragedy and to understand why this has happened."
The Australian government passed strict gun control legislation in 1996, after a gunman opened fire in a Tasmania cafe, then hunted down even more people in his car, killing a total of 35 and wounding 19 others. The National Firearms Agreement banned possession, manufacture and sale of all semiautomatic firearms and pump-action shotguns, except in certain situations, including military and police use.
It also mandated that applicants wait 28 days from the time they obtain a permit to the time they buy a weapon. Applicants are also required to undergo firearm training, and weapons and ammunition must be stored separately, according to the law.
Following Damond's death, family, friends and others in Australia spoke about the woman who was killed, some on social media calling the incident "senseless" and saying it was "definitely not adding up."
"I THINK COPS NEED TRAINING," one person wrote on Twitter from Australia.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said in a statement that a 911 call came about 11:30 p.m. Saturday, and that two Minneapolis Police Department officers responded to the scene in the city's Fulton neighborhood. "At one point an officer fired their weapon, fatally striking a woman," according to the statement.
The bureau did not provide details on what precipitated the shooting. Neither the responding officers' body cameras nor the patrol car's dash cam were turned on.
As Damond's Minneapolis community remembered her at a vigil Sunday night, close friends in Australia visited her family's home in Freshwater, a neighborhood in northern Sydney, according to news reports.
One of her friends, Julie Reed, told reporters outside the home that Damond would be remembered for the "joy she brought to our lives," according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
"There is no way to convey the amount of goodness that was in her," another friend, Eloise King, said, according to the newspaper.
"I know everyone thinks this when a loved one goes in any kind of manner but she was seriously one of the most beautiful people that has ever walked the face of the planet," King added. "She was just infectious, not just for me. There are so many people that would talk about her in the same way. She was loving, giving, smart, funny and caring."
After Australia's mass shooting in 1996, The Washington Post's Kevin Sullivan reported that it had united people on the gun debate.
"In a land of only 18 million people, nearly everyone knew someone, or knew someone who knew someone, who was among the 500 or so people in the small waterfront historic site at Port Arthur that day. Australians took the murders personally: Polls showed 95 percent favored the new laws. Australians also were willing to reach into their own wallets to get rid of guns."
"There was, of course, opposition to the new gun restrictions: Gun owners argued that the laws would not reduce gun crime and would unfairly penalize law-abiding sport-shooters. They said criminals would be emboldened because more of their victims would be unarmed. And they staged large rallies. Gun owners here always have been a powerful lobby, but they were surprisingly ineffective this time, despite support from the U.S. National Rifle Association."
In 2016, 20 years after the shooting in Tasmania, The Post's Christopher Ingraham cited research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showing that Australia had not had a mass shooting since the reform and that suicide rates have been on the decline. He noted, however, that there were no significant changes in gun-related homicides in the country.
But a 2016 investigation by an Australian newspaper, the Age, found that gun-related crimes in Melbourne had doubled over the past five years.
In a recent editorial, the Age said it respects citizens' rights but that "some freedoms that have no place in a civilised society, and none more so than the carrying of illegal firearms." The newspaper was applauding Australia's National Firearms Amnesty, which runs until September and gives people the opportunity to register or sell their firearms - "no questions asked."
The newspaper also called for firearm prohibition orders that would "allow police to subject prohibited persons to warrantless searches and ban them from being in proximity to a gun."
Damond went to school in Australia and graduated from the University of Sydney with a bachelor's of veterinary science degree in 2002, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
She taught meditation and spirituality classes at the Lake Harriet Spiritual Community Center. Her website states she was a certified yoga instructor, meditation teacher and a personal health and life coach.
Matt Omo, who had known Damond for years, told the ABC: "I only hope this evolves into something that can make a positive impact for the world."