Memorial doubles as protest of West Valley police shooting
Family and supporters press for answers as officials continue to investigate Nov. 2 shooting.
Published: December 17, 2012 10:00AM
Updated: April 8, 2013 11:32PM
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Kim Raff | The Salt Lake Tribune Kayleen Willard, sister of Danielle Willard, joins three dozen people who gathered outside the West Valley City Hall Sunday for a vigil for Danielle, who was shot by West Valley police on Nov. 2 as she sat in her car unarmed.

West Valley City • More than month after West Valley City police officers fatally shot an unarmed Washington state woman, activists rallied Sunday to honor the woman’s memory and pressure police to explain the shooting to her family.

Danielle “Dee Dee” Willard was shot twice in the head and killed Nov. 2 outside the Lexington Park Apartments, 2292 Lexington Park Drive (3710 South), as two plainclothes officers were conducting a drug investigation. The 21-year-old was unarmed and sitting in her car.

“I believe Danielle should still be here today, and her death shouldn’t have happened,” said Krystle Harrison, who was Willard’s roommate until five days before the shooting. “It’s six weeks later and we still have no answers.”

Police have released few other details of the incident, and it remains unclear why Willard was at the apartment complex or got tangled up with police.

Investigations by West Valley City and the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office are ongoing. The two officers involved in the shooting remain on administrative leave.

The rally began at 3:30 p.m. in front of West Valley City’s municipal offices, 3575 S. Market St. (3500 West). Nearly three dozen people, most of them strangers to Willard, attended the rally, some holding signs that read “Think First Shoot Later” and “Violence, Why?”

“I think it’s just amazing that people would come out and support my sister and stand up for her and for what she can’t say,” said Willard’s 19-year-old sister, Kayleen Willard, blinking back tears as she stood with supporters. “This doesn’t make sense at all to me, and nothing that we know about it really adds up.”

Willard had moved from Vancouver, Wash., to Utah in April for treatment at a drug-rehabilitation facility and had struggled with drug addiction, her family has said. After three months, she moved into an apartment in Murraywith Harrison, who had also been in treatment. Family had encouraged Danielle Willard to stay in Utah because she was doing so well, her mother, Melissa Kennedy, told The Tribune in November.

Harrison said Willard was working two jobs and had just bought an expensive camera so she could pursue her dream of becoming a photographer.

“She is an awesome friend. We told each other everything. She was always so happy and goofy,” said Harrison, who learned of Willard’s death through a television news report. “We held each other up a lot. She was doing really, really good ... and it’s just ended, it’s just gone.”

On Sunday both Harrison and Willard’s family members said they knew of no reason why she would have been at the West Valley City apartment complex where she died.

Kennedy visited the apartments for a second time on Saturday and said the concrete there is stained with her daughter’s blood.

Kennedy has met with police but was only told her daughter was not armed and no weapon was found in her car. More recently, police called in an outside team of forensic specialists to look at the crime scene again and re-enact the events of Nov. 2, Kennedy said. She believes the effort suggests that police themselves have questions they are still trying to answer.

“And Danielle’s not here to tell it,” said Kennedy, adding that she doesn’t expect any additional information from police for at least three weeks.

Willard’s father, who is divorced from Kennedy, was also at Sunday’s rally and said he was overcome with shock at the news of his eldest daughter’s death. Fred Willard said he had tried contacting his daughter by text on the day of the shooting but never got a reply.

“I believe excessive force was used,” Fred Willard said.

Willard’s family said they find comfort in the outpouring of support they’ve received and appreciate that they are not alone in calling for justice for their daughter.

“Justice to me looks like questions answered and laws that get changed so that police officers are held accountable for what they do,” Kennedy said.

jdobner@sltrib.com

@jenniferdobner