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

Published: Wednesday, July 29 2015 6:25 a.m. MDT

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) 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.

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) 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)

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.

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) 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)

"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.

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) 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)

"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.

Danielle Willard's mother, Melissa Kennedy, talks about her daughter as 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 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) Danielle Willard's mother, Melissa Kennedy, talks about her daughter as 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 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)

The hardest part, Kennedy said, was not receiving any new information about the case since November. "Absolutely nothing, which is incredibly frustrating."

Likewise, Harrison said she has only collected tidbits of information from non-law enforcement sources. She believes that someone prompted Willard to go to the apartment complex that day.

"I have no idea why she would be there. She was at work and left to put money down on an apartment, so that would be my best guess. But I didn't talk to her that day."

Harrison also said Willard was having problems with people who were crashing at her apartment and not leaving, and she had called the police at least four times in the week leading up to her death to report that her car was stolen and her apartment had been burglarized.

"(Police) knew her. They knew she wasn't dangerous, they knew she wasn't armed," Harrison said.

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) 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 police released a short, prepared statement Tuesday, asking for the family's "indulgence in understanding that in order for us to complete an exhaustive investigation and to maintain the integrity of that investigation, the team of investigators must move through all of the evidence in a methodical way. This effort requires patience and commitment from all parties."

West Valley Deputy Police Chief Mike Powell said it is impossible to put a time frame on how long it will take to complete the investigation.

As she stood in front of City Hall in the bone chilling cold temperatures on Tuesday, Kennedy said she remembered a time when Willard took a psychiatry class in high school and came home one day to tell her mother that she figured out why she kept making mistakes: It was because her frontal lobe wouldn't be fully developed until she was 21.

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) 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)

"Only Danielle would come up with something like that," her mother said. "And as I was thinking about this I was thinking, 'I will never know her as an adult. I will never know her as a mother, or a wife, or a grownup. She will always be a child and they took that away from me.'"

At Tuesday's rally, friends and family members also passed out fliers — one side written in English and the other in Spanish — asking any witness to the shooting to call a toll free tip line, 855-958-7842, a number that goes to Kennedy's attorney in California. All callers can remain confidential, she said.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com

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