Family grows impatient after police shooting
West Valley City • Tuesday would have been Danielle Willard's 22nd birthday, and her mother and about a dozen of her supporters marked it with a memorial and a protest.
In almost three months since Willard was shot and killed by West Valley police detectives conducting a drug investigation, Willard's family knows next to nothing about why she died. An internal investigation into the Nov. 2 incident, in which one officer also was injured but not by gunfire, is still in the works.
"I want to know the truth," said Willard's mother, Melissa Kennedy. "I don't think that's too much to ask for."
Kennedy, who lives in Vancouver, Wash., was joined Tuesday afternoon by activists who gathered in front of the West Valley City Hall with its police station just across the street holding signs that insinuated a police cover-up and official misconduct.
Tomas Martinez, of Midvale, was one of the people who came in the freezing weather. He held a sign that read "Cold Blooded Murder."
"It was cold-blooded murder," he said. "I don't care how you look at it."
Willard's shooting, and the mystery that surrounds it, has garnered public attention and outrage. Since her death, activists have formed the website JusticeForDanielle.org, and Kennedy has set up an anonymous tip line (855-958-7842) in hopes that she and her attorney might be able to get information that hasn't been forthcoming from official sources.
Official accounts of what led to Willard's shooting have been sparse. Police say Willard was shot twice in the head by two plainclothes detectives who were in the middle of a drug investigation at the Lexington Park Apartments, 2292 Lexington Park Drive (3710 South). Kennedy said police told her early in the investigation that her daughter was not armed and that she was inside her car when she was shot. A resident of the apartment complex witnessed the shooting and called 911. The resident did not want to be interviewed when contacted by The Salt Lake Tribune. Police also declined to release the content of the 911 call, saying that it is part of an ongoing investigation.
On Tuesday, West Valley police issued a statement asking for "patience and commitment from all parties."
"We are sensitive to the family's concerns, and we beg their 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 the evidence in a methodical way," the statement reads in part. Attempts to reach West Valley police officials for comment beyond the statement were unsuccessful Tuesday.
Keeping with protocol, the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office will rule whether the shooting was justified once the police department's internal investigation is complete. District Attorney Sim Gill said Monday that his office cannot make a ruling until it gets the complete report.
As the investigation drags on, Kennedy has gotten a lawyer and is trying to find out as much as she can on her own. Tuesday was the second public protest in West Valley since the shooting. The cold seemed to shrink the crowd the second time around, but Kennedy said she was ready to brave it "until I can't stand it anymore."
"I can handle a whole lot," she said, "especially when it comes to my kids."