Group rallies for answers from police on shooting victim's 22nd birthday

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 22 2013 6:05 p.m. MST

Friends, family and concerned citizens protest outside West Valley City offices asking for police to release details over the shooting death of 21-year-old Danielle Willard by a West Valley police officer last November on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013, in West Valley City. Willard would have turned 22 Tuesday.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

WEST VALLEY CITY — Tuesday would have been Danielle "DD" Willard's 22nd birthday.

Instead of a cake and candles, however, family members and friends marked the occasion by gathering in front of West Valley City Hall and making a renewed call for answers in the fatal officer-involved shooting that took her life nearly three months ago.

"We have to get information. We have to keep it in the public eye to get any answers," said Willard's mother, Melissa Kennedy.

On Nov. 2, Willard was shot and killed in the parking lot of the Lexington Park Apartments, 2293 W. Lexington Park Drive (3710 South), by one or two undercover West Valley police officers conducting a narcotics investigation. An autopsy report showed she was shot twice in the head.

One officer was treated at a local hospital for minor injuries following the incident, but it was still unclear as of Tuesday how that officer was injured or why Willard was killed.

Willard's family knew she had had drug problems in the past. But they don't know what the unarmed woman could have done to prompt an officer to fire his weapon. Police have remained tight-lipped about the details surrounding the case as they conduct their investigation.

The Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office will conduct its own investigation once the West Valley report is completed and submitted to the office. District Attorney Sim Gill met with West Valley police last week for an update. He said Tuesday he wasn't sure when the final report would be completed.

It's that silence from police and the length of their investigation, however, that has friends and family members of Willard both restless and concerned. In front of City Hall on Tuesday, people gathered both to honor Willard and to decry what they believe are injustices being committed by police.

"There's apparently a lot of people in the West Valley area that are having problems with the police officers. So there's a lot of people out here who want answers — not only for Danielle but for their own loved ones," said Kennedy, who flew into Utah from Washington to attend the rally.

Some of those at the rally were people whom Kennedy had never met in person, only as supporters on Facebook. "They are just very very upset with what's happened to Danielle," she said.

Krystle Harrison, Willard's roommate at the time of her death, said the longer the investigation into the shooting drags on, the less hopeful she is that it will be ruled unjustified.

"The fact that it's been three months to me is very scary," she said. "I'd be a fool to think that in the end this won't be justified.

"When this first happened, I was obsessed over watching the news for a good couple of weeks, waiting to find out what happened. And now here we are three months later, and I can't believe it. I don't even think I would believe everything they say at this point, unless they can prove everything that they do try to say."

Kennedy, however, isn't ready to say that police will definitely be cleared of any wrongdoing. And even if they are cleared, she isn't ready to say that it would be the wrong decision.

"I would still like to reserve judgment until the report comes out, until we find out exactly what happened," she said. "I think it is a good thing that they're taking their time, that they are trying everything they can from wherever they can."

Still, Kennedy says what little she does know doesn't add up. And she believes the only way her family is going to get answers is by keeping her daughter's story alive in the public eye.

"Justice, for me, would be to find out the truth — I mean the real truth," she said.

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