Cop who gunned down mum: 'She's in my prayers'
THE police officer who gunned down Australian bride-to-be Justine Damond has offered his condolences to her family, saying he has them in his 'thoughts and prayers'.
In a statement released by his lawyer, Mohamed Noor says he takes the shooting 'seriously'.
"He takes these events very seriously because for him being a police officer is a calling," his lawyer Tom Plunkett said. "He entered the police force to serve the community and to protect the people he serves.
The statement came shortly after the heartbroken husband-to-be of Justine Ruszczyk Damond made an emotional appeal about the loss of his fiance, saying his family is "utterly devastated".
Don Damond, 50, made the statement outside his Minneapolis home where his fiance, 40, was gunned down by a Noor on Saturday night after calling 911 for help.
OFFICER BREAKS SILENCE
The exact circumstances behind the shooting remain unclear, despite the release of an unofficial recording of the dialogue between Noor and his partner while in their patrol vehicle.
His lawyer said in the statement: "Officer Noor extends his condolences to the family and anyone else who has been touched by this event. He takes their loss seriously and keeps them in his daily thoughts and prayers."
He adds Noor arrived in the United States at a very young age and "is thankful to have had so many opportunities".
"The current environment for police is difficult but Officer Noor accepts this as part of his calling," Plunkett said.
"We would like to say more and will in the future. At this time however, there are several investigations that are ongoing. More importantly Officer Noor wants to respect the privacy of the family and asks the same in return during this difficult period."
A SHOT IN THE DARK
Scratchy audio of the police radio conversation has been uploaded to a Minnesota website that monitors the state's police scanners.
It captures the moments around the fatal shooting of the Australian spiritual healer and meditation coach.
The police audio begins with the description of a "female screaming behind the building", believed to be what Ms Damond told the dispatcher in her initial 911 call.
The officers are heard communicating with their dispatcher over the police radio, including calling for back-up.
Ms Damond, dressed in her pyjamas, reportedly approached the driver's side window of the police car when it arrived in the alley and officer Noor shot across his partner at Ms Damond more than once from the passenger seat.
"Shots fired ... we have one down," one of the officers says.
The tape then records their attempts to perform CPR on Ms Damond.
A mobile phone reportedly found near Ms Damond's body raised the prospect police thought it was a gun. No weapons were found at the scene.
Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau released a statement saying the investigation into Ms Damond's death would be expedited.
"I want to acknowledge the pain and frustration that family and community members have following the fatal officer-involved shooting on Saturday night. This is clearly a tragic death," she said.
"I also want to assure you that I understand why so many people have so many questions at this point.
"I have many of the same questions and it is why we immediately asked for an external and independent investigation into the officer-involved shooting death.
"I've asked for the investigation to be expedited to provide transparency and to answer as many questions as quickly as we can."
The Sydney woman's grieving partner revealed she had called 911 on Saturday when she heard noise in the alley behind the family home.
"Our hearts are broken and we are utterly devastated by the loss of Justine," he said.
"As you know, it was Justine who called 911 on Saturday evening, reporting what she believed was an active sexual assault occurring nearby."
Mr Damond was damning of police, saying the family have been provided with "almost no additional information from law enforcement regarding what happened after police arrived".
"We've lost the dearest of people and we're desperate for information," he said.
"Sadly our family and I have been provided with absolutely no additional information from law enforcement regarding what happened after police arrived. We've lost the dearest of people and we are desperate for information. Piecing together Justine's last moments before the homicide would be a small comfort as we grieve this tragedy."
Mr Damond said Justine's death was a loss to everyone who knew her.
"She touched so many people with her loving and generous heart. She was a teacher to so many and living a life of openness, love and kindness," he said.
"She was so kind and so darn funny. It is difficult to fathom how to go forward without her in my life."
The Minneapolis Police Department officer who shot Ms Damond was identified as Mohamed Noor, who had little more than two years' experience on the force.
Noor and his partner, whose cameras were not turned on during the shooting, have been placed on paid administrative leave.
Minneapolis' Star Tribune reports the partner, who did not fire any shots, as being officer Matthew Harrity.
Noor joined the Minneapolis Police Department in March 2015 and is the first Somali-American police officer assigned to the 5th Precinct in the southwest part of the city.
Noor's lawyer, Tom Plunkett, confirmed Noor fired his weapon, killing Ms Damond, who was originally from Sydney's Northern Beaches.
The Star Tribune reports Noor has been sued once for his involvement in a May 25, 2017 incident, where he and two other officers came to a woman's home and took her to a hospital.
The woman alleges this constituted false imprisonment and assault. Lawyers acting on behalf of the officers say they believed the woman was suffering a mental health crisis.
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), which is conducting the investigation, said in a statement that "initial interviews with officers" still weren't complete two days after the shooting.
The BCA said an autopsy has been conducted on Ms Damond's body, adding their investigation "does not determine whether a law enforcement policy was violated".
A FAMILY'S GRIEF
Ms Damond's soon-to-be stepson, Zach Damond, was approached by local media outside his home on Monday.
When asked by Fox 9 what he'd like to say to Noor, he said: "Why? Why would you do this? He has no idea the impact that he has on thousands of people. No idea."
"But I hope that he wakes up every single day and thinks about it. And then I hope that he thinks about how he can be a better person because that's what she did every single day. And if you don't do that, you're not even living either."
Don Damond, the vice president of Little Six Casino, was away on business when his partner was murdered and arrived at their home yesterday afternoon.
Earlier, Zach posted a poignant video about his "best friend", who had previously spoken out about America's gun culture.
"Basically my mum's dead because a police officer shot her for reasons I don't know," he said.
On Monday morning, a steady stream of neighbours and friends arrived to lay flowers and tributes where Ms Damond was killed. Many expressed shock at the murder in their quiet middle class neighbourhood.
"This was not a woman who would have presented any kind of threat to police. She was a gentle, loving person," said Joan Hargrave, who lived down the street and befriended Ms Damond a year ago through a shared love of dogs.
Laurie Engel, who lives across the street from the driveway where Ms Damond fell, said she didn't hear a shot but watched in horror as police swarmed the area following the shooting.
"I was struck by the size of the body lying under the blanket there, I thought at first it must have been a child," she said.
"It was only later that I realised it was Justine, and it was such a shock. She didn't deserve this to happen."
A crowd of more than 100 gathered at a vigil yesterday to remember the corporate speaker and meditation teacher, who moved from Sydney's Northern Beaches three years ago and was to marry US businessman Don Damond, 50, next month.
"This woman was a beautiful light. She was a healer, she was loved, she should be alive - she should still be here," said neighbour Bethany Bradley.
A family friend, who only wanted to be identified as Hannah, described the couple as "just so in love".
Activists were among the mourners outside the Damond home yesterday, and they quickly linked her name with other high profile victims of police shootings.
Large love hearts were chalked onto the driveway near where Damond fell, with the names Jamar Clark and Philando Castile, whose killings at the hands of police sparked protests and marches.
Press release from the MN Bureau of Criminal Apprehension regarding the officer-involved shooting on the 5100 block of Washburn Ave. South. pic.twitter.com/wRR9sA3gbt— Minneapolis Police (@MinneapolisPD) July 16, 2017
Hannah, 21, said she was a friend of Zach's and echoed the questions of many.
"I don't know what she was doing out," Hannah told the local Star Tribune newspaper.
"She's such a kind woman. She took me in when I was in a tough situation and helped me with whatever I needed."
Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges also questioned why the officers' cameras weren't filming and vowed to get answers on behalf of Damond.
"As mayor of our city, a wife, and a grandmother, I am heartsick and deeply disturbed by what occurred last night," Mayor Hodges said at a press conference yesterday.
'There are still many questions about what took place, and while the investigation is still in its early stages, I am asking the BCA to release as much information, as quickly as they are able to."