Shooting victim battled drugs; Many questions unanswered by police

Published: Saturday, Nov. 3 2012 6:00 p.m. MDT

WEST VALLEY CITY — Melissa Kennedy knows her daughter wasn't perfect.

But she doesn't understand what it is that her daughter did so wrong that prompted West Valley police to shoot and kill her.

"Everything that keeps going through my mind is speculation. Did she get back on drugs? Was she really clean? Was it wrong place at the wrong time? I don't know," Kennedy said Saturday from her home in Vancouver, Wash.

Just before 1:30 p.m. on Friday, Danielle Misha Willard, 21, was shot and killed by undercover West Valley police officers in the parking lot of the Lexington Park Apartments, 2293 W. Lexington Park Drive (3710 South). An officer also suffered minor injuries during the encounter.

Many questions about the incident remained unanswered Saturday, including whether Willard was the intended target of the police investigation that brought them to the parking lot, and why the officer or officers involved fired. Police also would not comment if anyone else was in the car the Willard.

West Valley Police Sgt. Mike Powell said Saturday that the officer who was hurt had been released from the hospital. He refused to comment on how the officer was injured or offer any details on the investigation.

"We want to complete the investigation before any specific details are announced," Powell said. "It's in our best interest and everyone's best interest to collect all details before any specific statement is made."

He would not release the names of the officers involved, but confirmed that two officers were on paid administrative leave, which is protocol on any officer-involved shooting.

Family members of Willard, who have seen pictures of the incident from news websites, said the gray Subaru in the parking lot at the center of the investigation on Friday, is the car Danielle's father gave her. They said they too are not being told much about what happened.

Kayleen Willard, Danielle's younger sister, said she had heard that Danielle was in the passenger seat and someone else was in the driver's seat.

Police used white sheets Friday to cover the body of Danielle Willard, which was on the ground outside her vehicle on the passenger side. Her front windshield had what appeared to be two bullet holes. The passenger window was broken and the driver's side window also appeared to be shattered.

A red SUV that also had shattered glass around it, appeared to have T-boned the rear of Danielle's car. Powell said Saturday that the SUV was not related to the incident, but declined to say how it ended up with the passenger side door up against the rear bumper of the Subaru.

Although Danielle Willard's life ended violently, her family said she was not a violent person.

"Danielle is a sweetheart. She's got a big heart. She would give the clothes off her back for anybody. I used to get mad at her because she would use so much gas in our car because someone would want a ride home. She couldn't tell them no," Kennedy said.

But her family also knew that Danielle could not shake her demons. Willard grew up in the Vancouver, Wash. and Gresham, Ore. areas. In junior high school she was introduced to drugs. For the past three to four years of her life, she was addicted to heroin.

 In April, she moved to Utah to enter a sober house.

"She went there to a sober house to get clean. She was doing so good," her mother said.

Willard rented her own apartment in Murray. Her sister remembers when Danielle went back to Washington to visit a couple of months ago - the last time she ever saw her sister -  it was a positive meeting.

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