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Relatives and friends of Justine Damond, who was shot by a Minneapolis police officer over the weekend, stand near flowers after they held a vigil at Sydney's Freshwater Beach in Australia, July 19, 2017. AAP/Dean Lewins/via REUTERS(reuters_tickers)
By Todd Melby and Chris Kenning
MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - Shortly before she was fatally shot by a Minneapolis police officer, Justine Damond made two 911 calls to help a nearby woman she thought was possibly being sexually assaulted, according to transcripts released on Wednesday by police.
The death of Australian native Damond from a single gunshot has sparked outrage among family members and the public, and led Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to call it "shocking" and "inexplicable."
In the 911 calls, Damond reported hearing sounds of a woman screaming.
"I can hear someone out the back and I, I'm not sure if she's having sex or being raped," she told the 911 operator on the call at 11:27 pm. "And I think she just yelled out 'help.'"
Damond called again at 11:35 pm, and was assured officers were on the way.
The transcripts were released as Minnesota investigators continued to search for a potential witness spotted near the scene of the shooting, hoping he may shed light on the shooting.
Just before Damond, a Sydney native, was shot through a patrol car window by an officer before midnight Saturday, officers spotted an 18-to-25-year-old white male bicycling in the area, according to investigators who interviewed one officer.
As officers provided medical assistance to Damond, shot in the abdomen, the man stopped at the scene and watched, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said late Tuesday. Officials did not respond Wednesday to requests for further detail.
On the night of the shooting, officers Mohamed Noor and Matthew Harrity were driving through an alley searching for a suspect in the reported assault, the bureau said.
At one point, Harrity told investigators he was startled by a loud sound near the patrol car. Immediately afterward, Damond approached the driver's side of the squad car and Noor, who was in the passenger seat, fired his weapon through the open driver's-side window, striking Damond, the agency said.
Agents interviewed Harrity on Tuesday but Noor has declined to be interviewed. Noor's lawyer, Tom Plunkett, did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
Harrity's attorney, Fred Bruno, told the Star Tribune on Wednesday "it's certainly reasonable" for the officers to fear they could be the target of a possible ambush. Bruno could not be reached for comment by Reuters.
The Hennepin County Medical Examiner has ruled the shooting a homicide. A spokeswoman for the office declined to say whether the office still has possession of the body or on funeral plans.
Damond's relatives could not be reached for comment.
The bureau said police body cameras were not turned on until after the shooting, which could have shed light on the incident. The squad car camera was also not turned on. They said the police would determine whether that violated any police policies.
Damond, who was also known as Justine Ruszczyk, had taken the name of her fiance, Don Damond, ahead of their wedding. They were due to be married in August.
(Reporting by Chris Kenning; Editing by James Dalgleish)