MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – At the edge of an alley leading out to 51st Street near Washburn Avenue South, several names were written in sidewalk chalk.
The names represented people killed at the hands of police officers, such as Philando Castile. The latest name etched in chalk and surrounded by a heart was Justine.
“I mean ask anybody here, they’re shocked,” said Corey Birkholz.
He was a student of Justine Damond, a south Minneapolis woman who taught meditation classes and spiritual healing at the Lake Harriet Spiritual Community. She is also who friends and neighbors say was shot and killed by a Minneapolis police officer Saturday night.
“It doesn’t seem like she’d be the kind of person to get shot in an alley,” said Birkholz.
His feelings were shared by more than 200 people who gathered for a vigil near the spot where Damond died hours earlier.
“A woman who you met her was just peaceful,” described another neighbor to the crowd.
Investigators with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) said at around 11:30 p.m. Saturday, a 911 call was made about a possible assault in the area. They said a Minneapolis police officer fired their weapon, killing a woman.
A man claiming to be Damond’s son said in a Facebook video that she called 911 after hearing a noise in the alley near their home.
“She thought something bad was happening and next thing I know they take my best friend’s life,” the man, named Zach, said.
Investigators said the officers involved had body cameras, but they weren’t turned on.
“I don’t know anything about the law, police work to that extent but to me it seems really stupid. You have a body camera, aren’t you supposed to use them?” asked a visibly upset and confused Birkholz.
The same question was raised at a news conference with Minneapolis police and Mayor Betsy Hodges.
“I share the same feelings everybody has about why we don’t have body camera footage of it and I hope to get answers to that in the days coming,” Mayor Hodges said.
Investigators said the squad car video was on, however it didn’t capture what happened at the scene. As the grieving community in south Minneapolis waits for answers and more information on the incident, they’re also focused on honoring Damond.
According to her website, Damond moved to Minneapolis from Sydney, Australia. The former veterinarian became a yoga instructor, personal health and life coach and meditation teacher.
Neighbors and friends described her as an animal lover, a mother and a warm spirit ready to help others. Birkholz said through her classes, Damond could help people work their way through illnesses and other life problems with the help of meditation.
“A very conscious, loving person and you wouldn’t associate that with a gunshot in an alley,” he said.
They say they’re trying to figure out if any video evidence of what happened exists. The two officers involved in the shooting are on paid administrative leave, which is standard procedure.