The mother of a teen girl killed by a cop’s bullet as she tried on Christmas dresses at a Los Angeles shopping center has slammed the LAPD, claiming officers left her daughter to die alone on the floor as they evacuated others.
Soledad Peralta had taken 14-year-old Valentina Orellana-Peralta to shop for holiday dresses on Dec. 23 at a Burlington store in North Hollywood, she said at a press conference on Tuesday. In a statement translated by attorney Ben Crump, Peralta recalled being in a dressing room with Valentina when they heard “a commotion and screaming.” That’s when Valentina locked the door “to try to protect us,” Peralta said.
“We started hugging each other tighter,” Peralta told a spray of reporters assembled outside LAPD headquarters. “We began praying. Praying for peace. Praying for safety. Praying for everybody. All of a sudden, we felt an explosion that threw us both to the ground.”
The next thing Peralta remembers seeing was “white powder coming out of Valentina’s body. And she started having convulsions.”
She had no idea her daughter had been shot, Peralta said.
“Her body went limp. I tried to wake her up by shaking her, but she didn’t wake up… She died in my arms, and there was nothing I could do.”
Peralta said she began screaming for help, but none arrived.
“When the police finally came, they took me out of the dressing room, and left my daughter laying there,” Peralta said. “I wanted them to help her, but they just left her laying there alone.”
The LAPD on Monday released surveillance footage and body-camera video in which an officer can be heard firing three shots in the direction of suspect Daniel Elena-Lopez, who was armed with a bicycle lock and had allegedly been swinging at customers inside the store.
Several people inside the store had called 911 about Elena-Lopez but offered contradictory information: one caller incorrectly said he was armed with a gun and had fired shots.
Another clip shows an officer firing a rifle at Elena-Lopez, 24, who was pronounced dead at the scene. One of the bullets fired by officers penetrated the wall of the dressing room where Valentina and Peralta were taking cover, killing the teen with a gunshot to the chest, according to the Los Angeles County Coroner, which ruled the death a homicide.
In a statement Monday, LAPD Chief Michel R. Moore promised a “thorough, complete and transparent investigation.” The California Attorney General’s Office is conducting its own independent review, and the California Department of Justice is also investigating.
An LAPD spokesman, Sgt. Hector Guzman, told The Daily Beast that, per department protocols, the name of the officer involved is not yet being released.
Speaking for the family, Crump said Valentina “was beautiful, intelligent, and had the whole world ahead of her. She made exceptional grades in an English-speaking school, even though English was not her native tongue…She dreamed of being an engineer, working in technology, building robots to make the world a better place.”
Valentina’s father, Juan Pablo Orellana-Larenas, said on Tuesday that he was at home in Chile when he heard the devastating news that his daughter was dead. He had been planning to fly to the U.S. to be with Valentina for Christmas, but finds himself instead planning her funeral.
“All she wanted was to be an American citizen,” Orellana-Larenas said through a translator. “And now she is dead by the state, the murderers of the U.S.A.”
Orellana-Larenas said that Valentina had ordered a skateboard from Amazon as a Christmas present to herself. However, he said it arrived on Dec. 24, the day after she was killed. He will now bring it to his daughter’s grave, “so she can skate with the angels.”
“She wanted to be here in the United States because this was the land of opportunity, and she was excited about that,” a translator said after Orellana-Larenas finished speaking. “They were going to go see the Lakers… and they had planned to go see the Lakers together. And that’s never going to happen now.”
An online fundraiser launched by a relative in Canada has so far raised a little more than $25,000.