National News

Justine Ruszczyk: Woman killed by police a month before wedding

Posted July 18

The fatal shooting of Australian Justine Ruszczyk has led to an outpouring of grief and tributes in her home country and the Minneapolis community where she lived.

Ruszczyk's death, at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, stunned family and friends in Australia.

Ruszczyk called police Saturday night to report a possible sexual assault near her home, her fianc-, Don Damond, said at a news conference Monday.

Two police officers responded, and one of them shot the 40-year-old in the abdomen, killing her, according to police and an 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."

From veterinarian to spiritual healer

Ruszczyk, a yoga instructor and life coach, had lived in the United States since April 2014, said someone who knew her.

She quit her career as a veterinarian to become a spiritual healer after losing her mother to cancer and reconsidering her purpose in life, Ruszczyk said in a video recording of a talk she gave this month at the Lake Harriet Spiritual Community, where she worked.

"She was a gifted speaker, meditation leader, teacher and transformation coach. Her message is of love and peace and nonviolence," said Nancy Coune, an administrator at Lake Harriet Spiritual Community.

Always an animal lover, Ruszczyk also volunteered 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 United States and Australia because her father holds US citizenship, the source said.

'Dark night of the soul'

Ruszczyk had been giving talks at the Lake Harriet Spiritual Community and was supposed to speak Tuesday.

In the video of her July 2 talk, Ruszczyk said she'd trained as a veterinary surgeon. While traveling, she experienced a "dark night of the soul" on New Year's Day in 2006 and began to consider the message of a movie she'd seen, "What the Bleep Do We Know?"

That film is about "a world where science and spirituality converge," according to a website for the movie.

Ruszczyk said seeing the movie made her wonder, "Maybe our thoughts have an measurable effect on our reality? Maybe the way we think and feel can not only affect our reality but perhaps create it?"

Ruszczyk said was working to "teach people about themselves, from the level of quantum physics, from the level of neuroscience, so you can learn about how your brain works and how you can use it to create the state of health that you want and the life that you want."

Friends recall her sense of humor

Ruszczyk grew up in the Sydney suburb of Freshwater 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.

A former colleague from the newspaper, reporter Rod Bennett, recalled her warmth and humor.

"We became good friends and often shared a laugh," Bennett told the Telegraph. "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's, 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."

'An incredible love of animals'

Kat Kinnie, speaking from England, told CNN's "New Day" she befriended Ruszczyk in Sydney years ago as she transitioned away from the veterinary profession.

"It was almost as if when we met that she made a decision to fully commit to her purpose," Kinnie said. "And that was to bridge science and spirituality. ... She had an incredible love of animals, and she was very clever and very intelligent with regards to science, which I feel ... almost paved the way to bridge, you know, her spirituality."

Ruszczyk was equally loved in her adopted hometown of Minneapolis as well as respected professionally.

"Justine has an energy and care that allowed me to feel safe from the moment I walked in," says a testimonial on her website, attributed to a wellness consultant named Jo Grabyn. "Working with Justine changed my life in ways I never thought possible."

'This should not have happened'

Soon after her death, Ruszczyk's stepson, Zach Damond, took to social media and expressed 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 said.

Ruszczyk hated America's gun culture, according to one Australian media report, but moved to the country to be with her fianc-.

Australia severely restricted private gun ownership in 1996, 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.

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