Deona Knajdek, Protester Hit And Killed In Uptown, Remembered As 'Wonderful Person'
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) - Family members identified the victim struck by a car during a protest in Uptown Minneapolis Sunday night as Deona Knajdek, remembering her as "a wonderful person" who was committed to helping others.
WCCO spoke with her brother, Garrett Knajdek, during a phone interview Monday. He identified Deona as the victim who died from injures after a driver hit protesters with his car in Uptown just before midnight Sunday. At least three others are injured. Police have not identified the suspect.
They were protesting the death of Winston Smith, a Black man killed by a federal task force a week and a half ago. They have been demanding more evidence and details surrounding his death after state investigators claim there was no body camera footage capturing the killing.
"[Deona] was trying to do something better for the world. She's always been known to risk everything for everybody and this proves it," Garrett said. "Of all the people I know she's been through far more than anybody and still continues to smile every single day no matter how dark it was."
On Monday, Deb Kenney, Deona's mother, took time to hug all the friends her daughter made while protesting during the last 10 days of her life.
"I have to be here for her and for everyone else that was around her at the time," Deb said. "She was having her voice heard. It was the one thing that she said: 'This time, Mom, this means something to me.'"
She says her daughter would have turned 32 Wednesday, and she would have celebrated a year of sobriety.
"I knew that she was going to use her voice for this … and I'm proud of her for doing so," Deb said.
Garrett told WCCO he saw witness video that shows the driver hitting his sister's car that was blocking the street, which then hit protesters. Authorities declined to comment, citing an ongoing investigation.
Deona's mother says there is no time for anger.
"We need to be very grateful that Deona was here and she shared it all with us, and she wouldn't want us to be angry at that man. She would have let it go in a minute," Deb said. "The gentleman that was also in this incident, he needs to live with this for the rest of his life and so does his family, so we want to make sure we pray for that family as well."
Deb wants forgiveness, but justice -- something all those gathered Sunday night say they have wanted all along.
"I would love people to remember her for the person she was," Garrett said through tears. "She was afraid of butterflies because she didn't want to hurt them."
Garrett said his sister worked with people battling mental illness and addiction and had recently returned to Minnesota a year and a half ago to reunite with her two daughters after spending time in Georgia, where Garrett currently lives.
"She's such a wonderful person," her brother said. "She's had struggle and hard times but she's always pulled out of it, brought somebody back with her and brought them up and shown them the light of the world. Every aspect she's ever done has been towards that."
The Cottages Group, which provides residential services to vulnerable adults, identified Deona as an employee. It posted on Facebook Monday remembering her as "one of the most selfless people we have had the pleasure of knowing."
"She earned the respect and trust of those she served because of her true compassion for her work," the group said, adding it will plant a magnolia tree in her honor in each of their four locations. "She will be deeply missed by those she served and served with."
There is a planned march honoring Deona Monday night at West Lake Street and Girard Avenue.
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