Mother of woman killed by police visits memorial, waits for answers
Laura Seitz, Deseret News
WEST VALLEY CITY — Melissa Kennedy left Utah on Wednesday to return to her home in Vancouver, Wash.
Before she left, she stopped by the parking lot of the Lexington Park Apartments, 2293 W. Lexington Park Drive (3710 South), one last time to see the makeshift memorial created for her daughter, Danielle "Dee Dee" Willard.
"I just had to see the scene one more time. I wanted to see the flowers again, read the notes that were written, sit here and remember my baby girl," Kennedy said.
On Nov. 2, Willard was shot and killed by one or two undercover West Valley City police officers conducting an investigation. Kennedy said the autopsy report from the state medical examiner indicated that her daughter had been shot twice in the head. One bullet entered the crown of her head, Kennedy said. A second went through Willard's jaw area.
Kennedy is reserving judgment about what happened until a full investigation into the shooting is completed. But on the surface, she said, something about the shooting just isn't adding up.
"I'm reserving judgment on the police officers. I'm sad for my daughter's loss. I am angry this has happened," she said. "It looks like it may have been some bad judgments here. But until we get all the information back, I'd really like to not pass judgment on that.
"I just want the truth, and I'm willing to wait. Just as long as I get the truth in the end," Kennedy said.
On Wednesday, flowers, candles and messages were left on the pavement where Willard died. On note said, "We love you so much, Dee Dee. I will never forget your beautiful smile and the joy you brought to my life."
Next to the memorial were paint markings used by police investigators to mark each of the tires of Willard's car. There were two more sets of tire markings nearby.
Right after the shooting Friday, a red SUV was T-boned against Willard's vehicle. Wednesday, that SUV, which apparently belongs to a tenant of the apartment complex, was parked in a covered parking area near the area where the shooting occurred. The car had very minor scratches.
Kennedy said she has not been given a good explanation about how the SUV ended up where it did.
West Valley police have said they will not release specific details about the shooting until the investigation is completed.
Kennedy has been in Utah for a couple of days collecting pictures and other items from her daughter's Murray apartment. She also has been interviewing her daughter's friends and anyone who may have information about the shooting in an effort to find some answers on her own.
As to whether there was anyone else in the car with Willard when she was shot, Kennedy said it depends on what she reads or to whom she talks.
"I choose to wait and let the detectives find out," she said.
But police have confirmed to Kennedy that Willard did not have a firearm.
According to the information Kennedy has collected, her daughter was in the driver's seat of her vehicle when she was shot. At one point, there were detectives on each side of her vehicle, breaking out the driver- and passenger-side windows.
There were also two bullet holes in the windshield. Kennedy said she believes her daughter was pulled out of the car through the passenger-side door after she was shot and laid down on the pavement as officers attempted to administer first aid.
One officer was treated at a local hospital for minor injuries. But Kennedy doesn't know if the officer was hit by her daughter's vehicle or if he just fell down down while running and injured himself, another rumor she said she was told.
What Kennedy also doesn't know is what prompted the officer or officers to open fire, whether they were justified and how the bullet struck Willard in the trajectory it did.
"There is something wrong here. There is obviously something wrong. How bad it is, I don't know. What they did right, I don't know. Again, we'll wait for the report and see what the real results are," she said.
Kennedy knows her daughter battled a severe heroin addiction. She knows her daughter wasn't perfect, especially when on drugs. Kennedy wants to keep a realistic view of what happened, which is why she's not ready to pass judgment on police.
But she also wants answers.
"I'm all for take your time. Give me the answers when you absolutely know them. Because I don't want them to come to me one day and say one thing and then come back two days later and say, 'Oh wait, we found out some more information.'
"I'm running on adrenaline. That's all I can think of. I feel a vise around my chest. I don't know if I'm holding myself tight enough, but I'm trying not to shake," she said.
On Saturday, Willard will be buried in hometown of Vancouver, Wash.
"I would like for this (incident) not to be known as a negative thing. Let's make something positive out of it. Let's learn from it if there was something wrong. Let's make this a teaching tool for other officers and other ways to take on this kind of a situation," Kennedy said.
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