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Woman killed by Minneapolis officer remembered as spiritual and caring

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A photograph of Justine Ruszczyk surrounded with colored roses
A photograph of Justine Ruszczyk surrounded with colored roses and other arrangements sits on a stage at Lake Harriet for her memorial.
Maria Cardona | MPR News

Don Damond had expected to be on a plane to Hawaii yesterday sitting beside his fiancee. He and Justine Ruszczyk — who'd already begun using his last name socially and professionally — were due to get married Thursday. 

Instead Damond stood on a stage near Lake Harriet, his voice occasionally lost in the noise of aircraft overhead, and expressed to hundreds at the Lake Harriet Bandshell what he'd planned to say to his bride at their wedding. 

"It felt like a privilege to love Justine. And I know those of you who love Justine, you probably feel that as well. I love her. I cherish her. I so adore her. And I have immense gratitude for being the one she chose."

Ruszczyk was shot and killed by a Minneapolis police officer last month after she called to report a possible sexual assault near her south Minneapolis home. 

She was remembered Friday as a spiritual person who cared deeply about the people in her life and had a special affection for animals.

Damond recounted how his fiancee would get up each morning and free write anything that came to mind, and how she was an inspiration to those around her.

"Everywhere she went and the people she touched, she touched with a sense of love, kindness, playfulness. And that is who Justine was," Damond said.

The audience also saw a video that family and friends say shows the quintessential Justine — her rescue of eight ducklings from a storm sewer.

Damond says the same sense of love and duty that led her to climb down a sewer to rescue baby ducks also sent Ruszczyk into the alley behind their home late at night on July 15; she wanted to help someone she thought was being sexually assaulted. 

Her father John Ruszczyk also spoke at the memorial last night. At times he struggled to hold back tears. 

"We should be walking arm in arm down the street smiling and laughing. And now each step on the footpath is so very painful. I feel crushed by sorrow."

Ruszczyk said his daughter was killed by a bullet, that was fired by an agent of the state, and he will continue to seek justice.

"Because in getting justice for her, we will be getting justice for all of us," Ruszczyk said.

The service ended with a maypole dance, didgeridoo music from Australia, and a silent walk around Lake Harriet.