The woman with kind eyes and an easy smile looked for glimmers of love all around — even in the trees.
Justine Damond once spotted the words "Love is everywhere" in felt lettering, stuck on branches near a lakeshore. She saw the message as a reward for taking a new route on a well-worn walking path, calling it a "hug from the universe" in a 2015 blog post.
Friends and neighbors say the yoga instructor and meditation teacher exuded warmth and light. It's why, they say, her death from police gunfire near a dark alley near her home in July is so unnerving.
"She was a teacher to so many in living a life of openness, love and kindness," her fiancé, Don Damond, said. "Our lives are forever changed as a result of knowing her."
Justine Damond, also known as Justine Ruszczyk, moved to Minneapolis from Sydney, Australia, several years ago, wanting to be with Don Damond, friends said.
She trained as a veterinarian before turning her attention to meditation and its "neuro-scientific benefits," according to her personal website. Watching family members suffer from alcoholism and such illnesses as cancer drove her to a life of helping people heal.
The 40-year-old Damond regularly taught meditation classes at Lake Harriet Spiritual Community, where members recalled her wit and aplomb. Her fiancé led a men's group there, said Gary Perisian, the community's president.
She was prone to calling people "love" and giving hugs on first encounters, Perisian said. She looked forward to her summer wedding to Don Damond, who is vice president and general manager of Little Six Casino in Prior Lake.
"She was the least threatening person you would meet," Perisian said.
Before coming to the United States, Damond wrote book reviews for a local newspaper in Australia, where her critiques ranged from vegetarian cookbooks to children's stories.
Manly Daily reporter Rod Bennett worked with Damond in those days. Bennett described her as a "vibrant woman with an offbeat sense of humor."
Rob Valentine, who used to see her at Dunn Brothers Coffee in Minneapolis, recalled her "sympathetic kindness."
"She's a very bright light," Valentine said. "Wherever there was pain, she would show up."
Neighbors remembered her love for animals, especially ones in peril. They said she once rescued a few dogs from euthanasia — in Egypt. She flew the pups stateside to find them homes.
A theme of her life, some say, was rescue.
Ducklings in distress once made her late to a meditation class. They had fallen down a storm drain, so Damond climbed down, scooped them up in her dress and returned them to their mother, said Jay Peterson of the Lake Harriet Spiritual Community. He suspects that Damond made the 911 call that Saturday night in effort to save someone, he added.
This story was originally published on July 18, 2017.