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Minneapolis woman fatally shot by police after calling 911 to report assault, family says

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Justine Damond, also known as Justine Ruszczyk, from Sydney, is seen in this 2015 photo released by Stephen Govel Photography in New York, U.S., on July 17, 2017. Courtesy Stephen Govel/Stephen Govel Photography/Handout via REUTERS2 / 3
Justine, whose last name has not been released by friends or authorities until her relatives in Australia can be informed, was fatally shot by Minneapolis police Saturday, July 15, 2017,in south Minneapolis. Neighbors say she was a 40-year-old Australian national and spiritualist who had lived in Minnesota for 3 years and was engaged to be married in August. A vigil organized by Minneapolis NAACP and Women’s March Minnesota drew upwards of 200 people on Sunday. Frederick Melo / St. Paul Pioneer Press3 / 3

MINNEAPOLIS -- A woman was shot to death late Saturday by police responding to a 911 call in south Minneapolis.

Two Minneapolis police officers responded about 11:30 p.m. to a report of a possible assault in the 5100 block of Washburn Avenue South, according to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is investigating the incident. One of the officers shot and killed the woman.

No further details were released Sunday by the BCA.

Zach Damond, who identified himself in a Facebook video as the son of the woman’s fiance, said she had called police for help after hearing a noise near her house. In the video, which was posted Sunday to the Women’s March Minnesota Facebook page, Damond described the woman who was shot as his “best friend.”

“My mom is dead because a police officer shot her for reasons I don’t know,” Damond said. “These cops need to get trained differently. I just know she heard a sound in the alley, so then she called the police, and the cops showed up. … Next thing I know, they take my best friend’s life.”

In an email message on Sunday, Damond said, “Tell people to call the police and demand answers.”

At a news conference Sunday afternoon, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges called on the BCA to share the details of the shooting as quickly as possible.

“We have few facts at this point,” she said. “This is an awful situation. My heart goes out to everyone in the community, especially the family of the woman that was shot.”

Officials did not release the woman’s name Sunday because they were still notifying family members of her death.

Friends and neighbors identified her only as Justine, an Australian native who taught yoga and meditation classes at the Lake Harriet Spiritual Community.

More than 200 people gathered near the scene of the shooting Sunday evening to mourn and demand more information about her death.

“The city has no excuse for being closed-lipped about this,” said Michelle Gross, president of Communities United Against Police Brutality. “Justine thought there was an assault going on. She was just trying to protect someone. … She was gunned down.”

Gross pointed out that the area where Justine was shot was well-lit and in an upper-middle-class neighborhood where police killings are rare.

Local civil rights activist Mel Reeves called for the officer who shot Justine to be prosecuted.

“If she was armed, the police would’ve said so,” Reeves said. “Here we go again.”

Ella Davis-Suggs, a friend and student of Justine’s, said Justine helped her deal with knee pain without medication.

“She believed we have more power over our circumstances — even our genes — than we have been taught,” Davis-Suggs said. “I wouldn’t say ‘New Age,’ but a holistic spiritual approach that says we’re all connected.”

Davis-Suggs said her own nephew was shot and killed by police in the early 2000s.

“I think it’s a systemic thing,” she said. “I hope people don’t demonize all police officers … but it’s shoot to kill, not shoot to disarm.”

Members of the Minneapolis City Council and mayoral candidates also attended the vigil.

The BCA said its investigation into Justine’s death is in its very early stages.

“More information will be available once initial interviews with incident participants and any witnesses are complete,” the agency said in a statement Sunday. “That work is underway, but will not be complete today.”

Investigators are seeking video of the incident. The officers’ body cameras were not turned on during the shooting, and the squad-car camera did not capture it, according to the BCA.

“I have a lot of questions about why the body cameras weren’t on,” Hodges said at the news conference.

The Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office will conduct an autopsy.

In St. Paul Sunday night, more than 50 people rallied on Grand Avenue and Dale Street to protest the 2016 fatal police shooting of Philando Castile. The group marched through the city and eventually made its way to the home of Mayor Chris Coleman, where it remained until about 10:30 p.m. before returning to Grand.