October 26, 2018 10:42 PM
Justine Ruszczyk, an Australian woman who'd traveled the world searching for her own answers – personally and professionally – had fallen in love.
She'd met Don Damond at a conference in the United States – and soon after they began dating long-distance via Skype, he from Minneapolis and she from Sydney.
As their love blossomed over the years, the pieces of their romantic puzzle began to fall into place. Damond had proposed to her in 2015, a wedding was planned for August, 2017. For the time being, they had decided it made sense for her to live with Damond before they sank their roots back in Australia.
Given her travels throughout her 20s and well into her 30s, Minneapolis was about the last place anyone in the family thought she'd end up, recalled John Ruszczyk, Justine's father.
Still he was ecstatic for her.
"I thought it was the perfect Midwest city," John said in a recent interview with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS anchor Megan Newquist inside his home in Sydney.
In his first interview with an American journalist, John shared memories of his daughter, her spirit and how he struggles to come to terms with her death.
"I thought, Minneapolis, that's great, man, a university town… It'll be cold, it's craftsy, just what she loves," he said. "I mean, that's going to be a perfect place for her…"
And it was – until she was shot and killed by a Minneapolis police officer in a south side alley in July 2017. She'd become the victim of an officer-involved shooting that caught world-wide attention: a woman who was acting as a good citizen by calling 911 to report that she'd heard a woman who was screaming and being assaulted.
Officers Matthew Harrity and Mohamed Noor had responded to the call, but quickly cleared the scene. Justine was unarmed, dressed in pajamas, when she approached the police vehicle that was about to make a turn from out of the alley.
Harrity, the only officer who has given a statement about what happened, has told investigators that he and Noor heard a loud thump on the side of their squad. Prosecutors say that's when Noor, from the passenger side, fired a shot across his partner and through an open window, striking Justine in the abdomen, and killing her. Noor, fired from the department following the shooting, is awaiting trial in April on charges of murder and manslaughter.
Early Life, Discovering Her Interests
Justine was born in Iran in 1977. She lived in Saudi Arabia before moving to Australia with her parents and older brother, Jason.
She graduated from the University of Sydney, intent on becoming a veterinarian, but those dreams were darkened by her mother's death to cancer.
That loss sent Justine on a spiritual and physical search for answers around the world. She conquered the French Alps, ran a marathon in London and trekked through central Nepal.
"I think that's where she became aware that what was inside you made things happen," John said. "Through meditation and yoga she expanded her own powers. She was so gifted in explaining her beliefs and making people understand where their potential comes from and how to release that potential. She should be here with us – helping people do that and grow. And she's not."
Asked what he misses most about her, he said, "That's too hard. When she entered a room it was like all these lights came on, everything got brighter. I miss that about her."
An Abrupt Ending
When John learned that his daughter had been killed, he had not been told that it was by the hand of a police officer.
As he prepared to board a flight to Minneapolis to comfort Don Damond and learn more about what led up to the shooting, John said he confided to a friend and expressed his regrets for what his daughter had done.
"I said to him, 'If only she hadn't gone out and gone up to the police car' and he said, 'John, she did what any Aussie girl would do," John said. '"You see a police car, you feel safe, you go up to it. You go there expecting help. You go there expecting good things to happen, that's what she did.'"
If there is anything that helps ease his pain, John said it helps to know that his daughter was doing the right thing when she approached the squad.
On the first of every month, Justine's family and friends in Australia pay a Minneapolis florist to deliver a bouquet of flowers to the south Minneapolis alley where she lost her life.
"It makes me proud and it breaks my heart to know she's been taken from us when she had such a future," John said.
Months before the shooting, Justine returned home to celebrate her birthday. John gave Justine a photo album of the first 40 years of her life.
After her death, the last page of Justine's birthday album was edited.
It now reads, "In July of 2017 we learn that love is not bulletproof."
Megan Newquist & Ana Lastra
Updated: October 26, 2018 10:42 PM
Created: October 26, 2018 08:21 AM
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