Justine Damond’s faraway death from gunfire has stoked fears about American police shootings in Australia, where such encounters are rare.
Thousands of miles from the Minneapolis neighborhood where his daughter died, John Ruszczyk stood near his family home in Sydney, Australia, on Tuesday and spoke to reporters about a desire for justice.
“Justine was a beacon to all of us,” Ruszczyk said in a statement to media. “We only ask that the light of justice shine down on the circumstances of her death.”
Justine Damond, also known as Justine Ruszczyk, died late Saturday after being shot by a police officer responding to her 911 call. News of her death has flooded Australian airwaves, newspapers and websites for days, as headlines highlight unanswered questions over the officer’s use of deadly force. That country has tough gun ownership laws and a government travel website that even warns about U.S. gun crimes.
“We see America as a very risky place in terms of gun violence — and so does the rest of the world,” said Philip Alpers, a gun policy analyst with the University of Sydney.
Only a handful of deadly police-involved shootings are reported in Australia each year, according to the Australian Institute of Criminology. And though the U.S. doesn’t keep a national database of such shootings, even incomplete statistics show there are hundreds annually.
A recent Australian headline in the Daily Telegraph newspaper described Damond’s death as an “American Nightmare,” a sentiment echoed by her father Tuesday.
“We thought yesterday was our worst nightmare,” Ruszczyk said in the family’s statement. “But we awoke to the ugly truth and it hurt even more.”
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, in an interview Wednesday with Australia’s “Today” show, joined the chorus demanding answers about what happened.
“How can a woman out in the street in her pajamas seeking assistance from police be shot like that? It is a shocking killing,” Turnbull said.
Damond moved from Sydney to Minneapolis several years ago to be with her fiancé, Don Damond.
Katarina Ruszczyk, who described herself as Justine Damond’s sister-in-law, said in an e-mail Tuesday that the family in Australia is not prepared to make any more statements and asked for privacy.
A silent tribute Wednesday morning drew hundreds to Freshwater Beach, near Sydney, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported. The vigil’s social media page has drawn interest from around the globe, with Facebook users from Brazil to Sweden chiming in with messages of solidarity.
Those attending the dawn tribute were asked to bring a candle and a flower to release into the ocean after sunrise. The gathering was held to honor Damond’s “love, her wit, her laughter, her light and her very beautiful life,” according to the event description.
Eloise King, who worked with Damond in Sydney, planned to attend the tribute.
“There are so many people that are affected by this and by her, her dying, her death,” King said in a phone interview Tuesday. “She was a beautiful, beautiful soul.”
Australian friend Lynda Griparic has been a client and student of Damond, who worked as a yoga instructor, meditation teacher and personal health and life coach.
“She deeply cared and took the time to serve others,” Griparic said in an e-mail Tuesday. “Justine believed in the potential of people.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.