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Teen died in mother’s arms after police bullet pierced store dressing room, family says

Lawyer Ben Crump shared translated remarks on Dec. 28 from the family of Valentina Orellana-Peralta, the 14-year-old who was fatally shot by Los Angeles Police. (Video: Reuters)
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An earlier version of this report, which relied on information from Los Angeles police, said Valentina Orellana-Peralta had been trying on quinceañera dresses when she was fatally shot in a dressing room. Her family later said she was trying on Christmas clothes.

Family members of a teenager killed by a police officer at a store last week are demanding justice from the Los Angeles Police Department after the 14-year-old girl ended up as “collateral damage” and died in her mother’s arms.

Valentina Orellana-Peralta and her mother, Soledad Peralta, were shopping for Christmas clothes at a Burlington store when the teenager was killed by a bullet intended for an assault suspect.

At a news conference Tuesday outside police headquarters, Peralta said in a statement read by attorney Ben Crump that she and her daughter had heard screaming and commotion outside the dressing room.

Valentina locked the dressing room door for protection. Mother and daughter held each other tight, closed their eyes and started praying for safety, Peralta said.

Peralta said she and her daughter felt an explosion that threw them to the ground.

Valentina “started having convulsions,” Peralta’s statement said. “I had no idea she had been shot. Her body went limp. I tried to wake her up by shaking her, but she didn’t wake up.”

Valentina died in her arms, Peralta said.

Peralta wailed for help, she said, but no one came.

“The police did not come to help me or my daughter, but I kept screaming,” she said. “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.”

Valentina’s father, Juan Pablo Orellana Larenas, had planned to come to the United States from Chile to be with her for Christmas, he said in Spanish during Tuesday’s news conference.

“His only solace is to bury his daughter now,” an interpreter said.

Valentina had been in the United States for about six months before her death, her parents said. The teen, who loved pink and had ordered a skateboard from Amazon to surprise her father, had dreamed of becoming an engineer and building robots. Before the shopping trip, she told her father how excited she was to have passed her math and physics exams. She longed to become an American citizen and to one day enjoy a Los Angeles Lakers game with her father, to see basketball great LeBron James in person.

Orellana is still in disbelief that his daughter could have been killed by a police officer — in the United States.

“It is like my whole heart had been ripped out of my body,” he said in a statement read by Crump. “My daughter was special. She had dreams and tragically those dreams have been overshadowed by this nightmare that has prevented me from sleeping at night.”

LAPD releases video of shooting that killed 14-year-old girl in dressing room

The skateboard Valentina ordered online arrived Christmas Eve, a day after her death. Orellana said he will deliver his daughter’s presents to her grave instead of enjoying them in person.

“If it was your baby girl, wouldn’t you demand justice, too?” he asked.

Crump and the law firm Panish, Shea, Boyle and Ravipudi are representing Valentina’s family members.

Los Angeles police did not immediately respond to a request for comment after Tuesday’s news conference.

A Burlington spokeswoman said the company is supporting authorities in the investigation.

“At Burlington, our hearts are heavy as a result of the tragic incident that occurred at our North Hollywood, CA, store,” the spokeswoman said. “Our top priority is always the safety and well-being of our customers and associates.”

The office of California Attorney General Rob Bonta (D) said in a statement that the California Justice Department is investigating along with other law enforcement offices. Bonta’s office said it will independently review the situation because it falls under Assembly Bill 1506, which requires the office to look into police shootings that end with the death of an unarmed person.

“Following notification by local authorities, the California Department of Justice’s California Police Shooting Investigation Team for Southern California deployed to the scene of the [officer-involved shooting],” the statement said. “Once the investigation has been completed, it will be turned over to the California Department of Justice’s Special Prosecutions Section within the Criminal Law Division for independent review.”

The Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, a nonpartisan public policy forum, said the shooting “was unprecedented in its scope and tragedy,” and its leaders called for Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon (D) to appoint a special investigator to the case.

Police had responded to reports of an assault at the store, where they found a man who had attacked customers with a bike lock. One officer fired a rifle at him three times, video shows. At least one bullet pierced a wall of the dressing room, killing Valentina.

The Los Angeles Police Department on Dec. 27 released video footage of a Dec. 23 shooting in which an officer killed a 14-year-old girl inside a dressing room. (Video: Los Angeles Police Department)

After the shooting, authorities found a hole in a wall and, behind it, saw Valentina in the dressing room. She was pronounced dead at the scene, the department said in a statement. The cause of death was a gunshot to the chest, according to the coroner’s office.

Rahul Ravipudi is representing Valentina’s mother. “Today is not about what’s going to happen next,” Ravipudi said at the news conference. “Today is about what the family is going through.”

Police released footage on Monday showing a man assaulting customers with a “heavy-duty cable lock” before police arrived. That man, identified as 24-year-old Daniel Elena Lopez, also was killed by police.

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Ravipudi said his firm has sent a request for all evidence in the case “so the LAPD can’t drive the narrative of what they did.”

“Justice 4 Valentina” signs were scattered about the news conference outside police headquarters, and a floral decoration at the site carried a picture of Valentina. Crump said the teen’s parents are trying to figure out how to get through each day.

Orellana "hasn’t slept since his only biological child was killed. … There are so many questions that they want answered,” the lawyer said before ending with a chant: “Valentina’s life matters!”

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