'I Don't Have Words to Describe This Pain': Family of 14-Year-Old Killed by LAPD Remember Their Daughter, Call for Justice

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woman and man embrace, wearing masks and "Justice for Valentina" signs, as other demonstrators hold large photos of Valentina
Soledad Peralta, left, and Juan Pablo Orellana Larenas, parents of 14-year-old Valentina Orellana-Peralta, who was killed by the LAPD last week while shopping at a clothing store, attend a press conference outside Los Angeles Police Department headquarters on Tuesday. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

A 14-year-old was shopping for Christmas clothes last week with her mother when the pair heard screams and hid in a dressing room, where the girl was fatally shot by a Los Angeles police officer, who fired a rifle at a suspect, piercing a wall with a bullet, the family said at a press conference Tuesday.

Valentina Orellana-Peralta died in her mother’s arms last Thursday at a Burlington store in the San Fernando Valley's North Hollywood neighborhood. Her family said the teen loved skateboarding and had dreams of becoming an engineer to build robots.

After screams broke out in the store the day before Christmas Eve, the teenager locked the dressing room door.

“We sat down on a seat, holding each other, praying, when something hit my daughter, Valentina, and threw us to the floor,” Soledad Peralta said Tuesday. "And my daughter died in my arms. I couldn’t do anything.”

The teen's family stood outside the Los Angeles Police Department headquarters, next to a large photo of Orellana-Peralta wreathed in flowers, to call for justice and remember their daughter. Speaking in Spanish and choking back tears, they said they had left Chile to get away from violence and injustice in search of a better life in the U.S.

Juan Pablo Orellana Larenas, Valentina's father, learned of the shooting on the night of Dec. 23 after his wife called him. He said he cannot sleep because his daughter shows up in his dreams. He had bought her a skateboard as a Christmas present, a gift he will never get to give her.

"I don't have words to describe this pain, what I'm feeling, especially during this special time when my daughter had asked me for gifts that I cannot open with her," he said, "but instead will have to keep them so I can give them to her at her grave."

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The LAPD on Monday posted an edited video package online that included 911 calls, radio transmissions, body camera footage and surveillance video from the Thursday shooting. The department’s policy is to release video from critical incidents, such as police shootings, within 45 days.

Due to its extremely graphic nature, and out of consideration for our communities, KQED has decided not to embed the video of the violence at the Los Angeles Burlington store. For those who wish to watch it in full, it is available here

The family's attorneys — including civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, who has represented the families of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Stephon Clark — have sent a letter to the LAPD asking for more video.

Multiple people including store employees called police to report a man striking customers with a bike lock. One caller told a 911 dispatcher that the man had a gun. No firearm — only the bike lock — was recovered at the scene.

Surveillance video shows a man in a tank top and shorts carrying a bicycle up the store's escalator to the second floor, where he wanders around, seemingly disoriented, clutching a cable-style bike lock. At times he stands motionless, staring into the distance.

The footage later shows the man on the down escalator attacking a woman, who manages to escape his grip and run out of the store.

The man then left the store for a minute and a half, police said.

After he returns, according to the video, he repeatedly attacks a second woman, this time beating her with a bike lock while she cowers on the floor. As she tries to escape, he drags her through an aisle toward the dressing rooms.

Orellana-Peralta’s mother, Soledad Peralta, said they were in a dressing room shopping for Christmas clothes when they heard screaming. The teenager locked the door and they prayed together.

In bodycam video, a group of armed officers enters the store and approaches the suspect. One holds a rifle and pushes to the front of the pack as the officers go through the store in formation.

Other officers repeatedly say “slow down” and “slow it down” as the officer with the rifle moves forward.

“She’s bleeding!” an officer shouts as they encounter the woman who has been beaten crawling on the blood-stained floor. The suspect is on the other side of the aisle.

“Hold up! Hold up!” another officer screams just before three shots ring out.

The officer holding the rifle fired, police said.

The 24-year-old suspect, Daniel Elena Lopez, died at the scene. Soledad Peralta's screams can be heard in the video.

"At this preliminary phase of the investigation, it is believed that the victim was struck by one of the rounds fired by an officer at the suspect," police Capt. Stacy Spell said in the posted video. Police believe the bullet skipped off the floor and pierced the dressing room wall.

Investigation could take a year or longer

The investigation is just beginning and could take up to a year or more to complete, Spell said. The California Department of Justice is also investigating.

"We at the LAPD would like to express our most heartfelt condolences and profound regret for the loss of this innocent victim, Valentina Orellana-Peralta. There are no words that can describe the depth of the sorrow we feel at this tragic outcome," Spell said in the video.

LAPD officers have shot people 38 people — 18 of them fatally, including the shooting Sunday of a man with a knife — in 2021, according to The Los Angeles Times.

One of the family's attorneys, Crump, said Tuesday, "We should not have to sacrifice innocent life in the name of safety when it was foreseeable that two days before Christmas that there were going to be people in a shopping plaza, shopping. The family thinks things could have been done differently so that Valentina wouldn't have been collateral damage."

Mourners left flowers and a votive candle outside the store on Christmas in a memorial for Orellana-Peralta. Her family said she earned good grades, even though English was her second language and she'd only been in the U.S. for about six months. Her father, Orellana Larenas, said his daughter valued how safe she imagined the U.S. to be.

"All she wanted is to be an American citizen. I had told her that we should leave this country and she told me, 'No, Daddy, this is the safest country in the world, the land of opportunity,'" he said. "My daughter was killed by these assassins from the U.S. That's what my daughter ended up finding here, death."

More criminal justice coverage

The LA Times reported that Elena Lopez’s previous criminal history includes convictions for car theft, carrying a loaded gun in public and carrying a gun as a felon. He was transferred to the Los Angeles County jail to the custody of the state prison system but a spokesperson for the corrections department would not release his commitment history to the Times because of the LAPD investigation.

The woman who was assaulted had moderate to serious injuries, including wounds to her head, arms and face. She has not been named publicly.

LAPD officers also killed a bystander in 2018, during a gunfight with a suspect at a Trader Joe’s market. Police fatally shot Melyda Corado, 27, the assistant store manager, as she ran toward the store’s entrance. Prosecutors found two police officers acted lawfully when they returned the suspect's gunfire.

KQED's Carlos Cabrera-Lomelí and Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez contributed to this report.

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