Family mourns bystander killed in LAPD shooting: “She died in my arms”
▶ Watch Video: LAPD releases bodycam footage of shooting that killed 14-year-old girl
The parents of Valentina Orellana-Peralta, the 14-year-old bystander who was fatally struck by a bullet when police fired at a suspect in a Los Angeles department store, mourned the loss of their daughter in a press conference on Tuesday. Police believe an officer’s stray bullet tore through a dressing room wall, killing the teen.
Soledad Peralta was with her daughter when she was fatally shot last Thursday. “She died in my arms and there was nothing I could do,” she tearfully told reporters through a translator.
Attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing the family, said the teen was trying on dresses for Christmas before the shooting occurred. Crump declined to say if the family planned to file a civil lawsuit, but another attorney representing the family said they had sent the Los Angeles Police Department a preservation of evidence letter.
Crump said the family “thinks things could have been done differently to where Valentina wouldn’t have been collateral damage.”
Crump described Orellana-Peralta as a “beautiful and intelligent girl” who came to the U.S. six months ago with dreams of becoming an engineer, seeing a Los Angeles Lakers game with her father, and becoming a U.S. citizen.
Her father, who still lives in Chile, told reporters that he planned to visit her for Christmas and brought gifts for her that he will now take to her grave. “It is like my whole heart has been ripped out of my body,” he said through a translator. “The pain of opening the Christmas presents for her cannot be articulated.”
The incident began on the morning of December 23, when officers received calls that a man was attacking customers at a Burlington store in North Hollywood, authorities said. In one of the 911 calls released by police, a witness told dispatchers that the suspect had fired a gun. But another said the suspect did not have a firearm.
In a video released by the department, the suspect — who was later identified as 24-year-old Daniel Elena-Lopez — is seen attacking multiple women in the store and destroying property. He’s shown repeatedly striking one woman with what appears to be a bike lock.
LAPD Captain Stacy Spell said officers were directed to the second floor of the building and began a search, where they located the suspect and the female victim who was hit with the lock.
Bodycam video appears to show officers arriving near the end of the attack. Several officers approached the bleeding woman, and an officer fired multiple shots at the suspect, who appeared to have retreated a few feet away before the shooting. The suspect fell to the ground and was later pronounced dead. Police said they did not find a gun at the scene, but did find a bike lock.
Orellana-Peralta was never shown in the released footage. But Spell said that “Unbeknownst to the officers, a 14-year-old girl was in the changing room behind a wall, and was behind the suspect, out of the officers’ view.”
“At this preliminary phase in the investigation, it is believed that the victim was struck by one of the rounds fired by an officer at the suspect,” he added. Police believe the bullet that hit Orellana-Peralta bounced off the floor and through the wall of the dressing room.
Orellana-Peralta’s mother said Tuesday that when she and her daughter first heard the commotion in the store, they hugged each other, closed their eyes, and started praying in the dressing room.
“All of a sudden we felt an explosion that threw us both to the ground,” she said through a translator, adding that her daughter started convulsing and then went limp. “I tried to wake her up by shaking her, but she didn’t wake up.”
The officer who fired their weapon has been placed on administrative leave pending the result of an investigation.
Jordan Freiman contributed reporting.