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A Woman Was Killed After A Man Drove Through Protesters In Minneapolis

Deona Marie Knajdek, 31, died after the driver crashed into her car, which she had parked to shield other protesters and which then struck her.

Last updated on June 15, 2021, at 11:34 a.m. ET

Posted on June 14, 2021, at 12:23 p.m. ET

Donald Hooker Jr./Facebook / Via Facebook: ZD126

A screengrab from a Facebook Live video shows the parked car that struck a woman after a driver crashed into it.

A woman was killed and three others were injured after a man drove a car into a crowd of people who had gathered at a vigil to protest police brutality in Minneapolis on Sunday night, police said.

Videos on social media showed protesters apprehending the suspect who was arrested and taken into custody. He was transported to a hospital for his injuries, police said.

Authorities did not identify the suspect or provide a motive, but a Minneapolis Police Department spokesperson said that "the preliminary investigation indicates that the use of drugs or alcohol by the driver may be a contributing factor in this crash."

The victim was identified by her family members and other witnesses as Deona Marie Knajdek, a 31-year-old woman whose social media posts were filled with tributes and demands for justice for Winston Smith, a Black man who was shot and killed by sheriff's deputies on June 3 in the Uptown area of the city.

She was among the group of activists and protesters who had gathered Sunday night to commemorate Smith near the area where he was killed.

According to witnesses and a family member, Knajdek had parked her car on the street to blockade the area for the protesters who were playing volleyball on the street. She had shared a livestream of the scene on her Facebook page, a few hours before she was killed there.

Facebook: LosztRosas

A screengrab from a Facebook video showing a group of protesters playing volleyball on the street less than an hour before a car drove through the vigil.

"I have never [seen] something this horrific," a witness said in an Instagram post showing graphic video of the aftermath. "Today was one of the most peaceful and happy moments out here holding space for Winston. We were playing volley ball and green light red light."

At 11:39 p.m. local time, police monitoring the protest on camera observed a vehicle drive into the group of protesters.

Witnesses said the car sped up as it approached the crowd. They said the car hit Knajdek's own vehicle, which then struck her. Videos showed a group of people tending to a woman who was lying in a pool of blood.

David Hooker Jr. / Facebook / Via Facebook: ZD126

Her brother, Garrett Knajdek, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that she "was using her car as a street blockade, and another vehicle struck her vehicle and her vehicle struck her."

"She's constantly sacrificing herself for everyone around her, no matter the cost, obviously," he said.

Several activists on social media said Knajdek saved many protesters' lives by using her car to shield the group.

"If it wasn’t for deona marie’s car being positioned the way it was, we would’ve all been dead or seriously injured," one protester tweeted. "I can’t get over the fact that Deona Marie lost her life while simultaneously saving all of ours," another activist tweeted. "If her car wasn’t parked where is was he would’ve ran through the entire crowd."

Deona Marie used her car to shield protesters during the #WinstonSmith protest uptown Minneapolis which resulted in savings MANY lives tonight. We can never repay her for the sacrifice she made, but we will honor her Monday night. #BREAKING #BlackLivesMatter

Twitter: @VBJ_Minneapolis

Knajdek was critically injured and died at the hospital, authorities said. Three others were hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.

After the crash, protesters pulled the male suspect from the vehicle and, according to police, began to strike the driver. Videos posted online showed people grabbing and restraining a man who had blood on his face but it was not clear from the footage if he was being hit.

In the ensuing chaos, some witnesses said police officers threatened to teargas the protesters. After the incident, videos showed a group of people, some crying, as they held their hands and prayed in a circle.

Donald Hooker Jr./Facebook / Via Facebook: ZD126

A screengrab from a Facebook Live video shows people praying after the crash.

"We were just holding space. We literally was playing Red Light Green Light Before I half froze and almost got killed in this terrorist attack," Donald Hooker Jr., an activist who was at the scene, said on his Facebook page. "But more importantly I was chanting and helping create a space that felt safe and some one died on my watch."

According to one of her Facebook posts, Knajdek — who was a mother to two girls — was to celebrate her 32nd birthday on Wednesday and one year of sobriety on Friday.

In a Facebook post, her mother, Deborah Marie Kenney, wrote, "Here is my beautiful brave funny everything daughter Deona Marie. Today she was taken from us while supporting another families cause... God has you now sweet Poke."

Knajdek's brother Garrett told KARE11 that his sister was the most wonderful person who would "in the most literal sense tear the shirt off her back to make sure someone was warm."

"No matter how dark her life was and how bad things got, she was doing everything she could to take care of somebody else and provide for them," Garrett said.

Over the past two weeks, Knajdek's Facebook posts were filled with tributes to Smith and calls for justice and police accountability.

In a Facebook tribute to Smith last week, Knajdek wrote, "I didn’t know you, but what I do know is you did NOT deserve to die... I didn’t know you, but your death just like others hit me in a way I cannot put into words and it is truly changing who I am as a person and what is important to me. I didn’t know you, but your life meant something and I will do what I can to tell the world; that yours and EVERY SINGLE OTHER BLACK PERSONS’ LIVES MATTER."

In another Facebook post about Smith two days before she died, Knajdek wrote, "Today you get to rest… you wanted to see a change and I really think you were the man to start that change.. I’m sorry… but we ARE going to get change for you and all the others, we will get justice, you changed the world while you were here and in your name a lot more change is still to come."

Instagram

Winston Smith

There have been protests, marches, and vigils for Smith after undercover sheriff's deputies on a US Marshals task force shot the 32-year-old multiple times and killed him while he was in his car on a parking ramp.

The North Star Fugitive Task Force, comprised of Hennepin and Ramsey County sheriff’s deputies, was attempting to take Smith into custody in relation to a warrant for a felony firearms violation when authorities claimed he fired a weapon from inside the car based on evidence at the scene. Investigators said they recovered a handgun and spent cartridge cases from inside the driver's compartment.

However, a 27-year-old woman who was a passenger in Smith's car during the incident has disputed authorities' account, saying she did not see a gun on Smith or inside the car at any time, her attorneys said in a press conference last week.

There is no body camera or squad car footage of the incident. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) — which is investigating the shooting — said the agency is prohibited from releasing the names of the undercover officers involved in the shooting.

Family members and activists have demanded transparency from authorities and have questioned the lack of body camera videos in the incident.

In its initial statement, the BCA said the US Marshal Service prohibits the use of body cameras for officers serving on its task force. However, the Department of Justice issued a policy last October allowing police officers to wear body cameras on federal task forces.

The US Marshals began to "phase-in" the policy in February this year, including in Minnesota, the US Attorney's Office in Minnesota said in a statement after Winston's death.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.

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