Parents say girl, 14, was praying with mother in dressing room when killed by stray LAPD bullet

Valentina Orellana-Peralta was in a North Hollywood store dressing room when LAPD bullet pierced the wall

Sheila Flynn
Tuesday 28 December 2021 22:10
Mother of teen shot by LAPD describes moment her daughter died in her arms
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Valentina Orellana-Peralta was hugging her mother and praying in a Los Angeles store dressing room when she was fatally struck by a stray LAPD bullet, the girl’s mother, Soledad Peralta, has said.

The distraught mother struggled to get through her statement in Spanish at a news conference outside LAPD headquarters on Tuesday, supported by her family and lawyers. The pair had been shopping for Christmas at the Burlington location on 12121 Victory Blvd in North Hollywood when a 24-year-old LA resident with a long criminal history began attacking people in the store.

“We heard shouting,” Ms Peralta said on Tuesday, crying as she described how she hid and prayed with her daughter. Responding LAPD officers, shown in footage released by the department Monday, entered the store, armed with handguns and a rifle. They found the suspect, Daniel Elena Lopez, in an aisle, armed with a bike lock after attacking a woman lying bloody on the floor.

The officer holding the rifle fired three shots, killing Elena-Lopez. Almost immediately, a woman can be heard wailing nearby; Valentina had been an innocent victim, hit by a bullet that LAPD says ricocheted off the floor and went through the dressing room wall.

When Valentina was hit, her mother didn’t initially know what had happened, she said Tuesday.

“She died in my arms,” she said, distraught. “I couldn’t do anything.”

Valentina’s father, Juan Pablo Orellana, flew in from Chile and also spoke at the press conference. He described getting the phone call from Ms Peralta with the news, which left him in shock, particularly when he heard the bullet had come from an LAPD gun.

Valentina, he said, loved America and always used to tell him it was the “safest country in the world”.

She dreamed of becoming a US citizen and had only been in California about six months when she was killed.

“They came to America from Chile to get away from violence and injustice, to have a better life in America,” lawyer and advocate Ben Crump, who has taken up the family’s cause, said Tuesday at the press conference. “As her aunt ... says, they can’t believe this happened in America.”

A lawyer for the family, Rahul Ravipudi, said at the press conference that they had sent a letter to the LAPD asking for full transparency and disclosure of all video “so that the LAPD doesn’t drive the narrative on what they did.

“We can expose that truth ourselves,” he said. “We sent that letter, we sent that immediately to make sure that all the that evidence is going to be saved.”

Ms Peralta on Tuesday also took issue with how officers acted following the incident, according to her statement read in English by Mr Crump.

“Her body went limp; I tried to wake her up by shaking her, but she didn’t wake up,” she said in the statement. “As I lay screaming for help, the police did not come to help me or my daughter. But I kept screaming.

“When the police finally came, they took me out of the dressing room and left my daughter laying there. I wanted them to help her, but they just left her laying there alone.

The LAPD on Monday released 911 audio and body-camera footage from the day of the incident showing Elena-Lopez acting erratically and attacking people at the store. Footage shows him entering with a bicycle, becoming increasingly enraged as he tries to hurl it and destroy property, then attacking shoppers with his heavy bike lock.

After police fatally shot him, only the bike lock – no gun – was recovered on his body.

Valentina’s cousins, writing on the GoFundMe page, said they were “overwhelmed with the outpour of love, compassion, and kindness you all have shown Valentina’s immediate family. Please continue to share Valentina’s story as we continue to seek justice.”

The incident is being investigated by the California Department of Justice and California attorney general’s office. The officer who fired the shot, who has not been identified, has been placed on paid administrative leave in the meantime.

“This chaotic incident resulting in the death of an innocent child is tragic and devastating for everyone involved. I am profoundly sorry for the loss of this young girl’s life and I know there are no words that can relieve the unimaginable pain for the family,” LAPD chief Michel Moore said last week in a statement.

The justiceforvalentina.com campaign, which links to the GoFundMe, demands “that involuntary manslaughter charges are levied against the officers who wrecklessly (sic) opened fire and shot and killed an innocent 14 year old child.”

Valentina’s tragic death has become another rallying cry for #SayHerName, #BlackLivesMatter and similar hashtags, particularly as advocates query why a man carrying a bike lock, not a gun, was not disarmed rather than shot. A memorial to the teen has sprung up outside the Burlington store, which remains closed.

A GoFundMe set up by the girl’s cousins had already raised more than $27,500 by Tuesday morning while an online petition, justiceforvalentina.com, had gathered more than 445 of 5,000 signatures.

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