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July 25, 2017

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The fiance of an Australian woman shot dead by a US cop is 'utterly devastated'

WASHINGTON/SYDNEY — The fiance of the Australian woman who was shot dead by a U.S. police officer outside her home in Minneapolis said Monday he has been left heartbroken by the death of his partner.

"Our hearts are broken and we are utterly devastated by the loss of Justine," Don Damond said in Minneapolis, in the north-central state of Minnesota.

The incident occurred late Saturday night after Damond called the police to report what she believed was a woman being sexually assaulted nearby.

On Monday, her fiance said the family was being kept in the dark about the incident from law enforcement about 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," Don Damond told reporters.

The 40-year-old woman, who was originally from Sydney and had been living in the U.S. for the past three years, was a trained veterinarian and worked in the local community as a meditation teacher.

While the couple were not yet married, the woman referred to herself as Justine Damond on her website. Her maiden name was Justine Ruszczyk, according to the Star Tribune local newspaper.

Local U.S. media reported Monday that she was shot by officer Mohamed Noor, from the passenger seat of his vehicle. The policeman reportedly joined the Minneapolis Police Department a little over two years ago.

In a statement released by his lawyer to local broadcaster WCCO, Noor offered condolences to the family, saying he "takes their loss seriously and keeps them in his daily thoughts and prayers."

"He takes these events very seriously because for him being a police officer is a calling. He entered the police force to serve the community and to protect the people he serves," the statement said.

"Officer Noor is a caring person with a family he loves and he empathized with the loss others are experiencing."

"The current environment for police is difficult but Officer Noor accepts this as part of his calling," lawyer Tom Plunkett said.

The Star Tribune, citing three sources with knowledge of the incident, reported that two officers in one car arrived at the scene after Damond called 911 to report an incident in an alley.

The pajama-clad Damond was in the alley speaking to the police officer behind the wheel of the car when the second officer shot her through the driver's side door, the sources told the newspaper.

It also reported that Noor had already been sued once when he and two other officers took a woman, who claimed false imprisonment, assault and battery, to hospital for treatment for a mental health crisis.

Damond's stepson Zach Damond, 22, said she called the police after hearing a noise near their house in the south-west suburb of Fulton.

"My mum was shot for reasons I don't know," Damond said in a video posted on Facebook. "I'm so done with all this violence."

A Minneapolis police statement said two officers responded to a call of a "possible assault."

"At one point, an officer fired their weapon, fatally striking a woman," police said.

The officers' body cameras "were not turned on at the time" and the car-mounted camera did not capture the shooting, the statement said.

The police investigation of the killing is ongoing.

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