Mother tells of how daughter died in her arms after Los Angeles police shooting

Police officer fatally shot 14-year-old girl while firing at man suspected of assaulting customers at clothing store

Soledad Peralta and Juan Pablo Orellana Larenas, the parents of Valentina Orellana-Peralta, attend a news conference outside the Los Angeles Police Department headquarters in Los Angeles. AP
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A Colombian woman whose teenage daughter died in her arms after being accidentally shot by police in a Los Angeles clothes shop said on Tuesday that officers did not immediately render aid to her child, despite the mother's screams.

Valentina Orellana-Peralta, 14, was struck by a bullet when Los Angeles Police Department officers responded to reports of a man assaulting customers at a busy department store in North Hollywood on December 23. She had been in a changing room with her mother, Soledad Peralta, when the bullet came through the wall.

The shooting has ignited yet another national conversation about police tactics in the US, where officers are often quick to open fire or use deadly force instead of trying to de-escalate tension when responding to a call.

“We sat down [in the changing room] and hugged and started praying, when something hit my daughter Valentina,” Ms Peralta said at a press conference outside the LAPD's headquarters, in comments translated from Spanish by one of the family's lawyers.

“It threw us on the floor and she died in my arms, and there was nothing I could do. To see a son or daughter die in your arms is one of the greatest and most profound pains that any human being can imagine. Valentina meant the world to us, to her family, to her friends and to her schoolmates.”

The girl was born and raised in Santiago, Chile, and came to the US six months ago with her mother. Her father, who was also at the press conference, had flown in from Chile. Her family said she loved skateboarding, had excelled at school and dreamt of becoming an engineer to build robots.

Fourteen-year-old Valentina Orellana-Peralta was in a changing room when a stray bullet fired by a policeman came through the wall and hit her, killing her instantly. Photo: Family handout via AFP

The mother said that despite her screams, police did not immediately come to help.

“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,” said civil rights lawyer, Ben Crump, translating comments from Ms Peralta.

Mr Crump, who also represented the family of George Floyd, the black man murdered by a white police officer in Minneapolis last year, said police should not sacrifice innocent life “in the name of safety".

“It was foreseeable that two days before Christmas, that there were going to be people in a shopping plaza … The family thinks things could have been done differently to where Valentina wouldn't be collateral damage and that she would still be here celebrating Christmas,” Mr Crump said.

More details of the shooting surfaced on Monday when the LAPD posted an edited video package online that included 911 calls, radio transmissions, body camera footage and surveillance video.

Early surveillance footage showed a man in a tank top and shorts carrying a bicycle up the store’s escalator to the second floor, where he wandered around, seemingly disoriented, clutching a cable-style bike lock. At times, he stood motionless, staring into the distance.

The footage later showed the man on the down escalator attacking a woman, who managed 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 returned, the video showed the man repeatedly beating a woman with a bike lock and then dragged her towards the dressing rooms.

In the bodycam video, armed officers entered the store and approached the man. The victim was seen on the floor and the man was on the other side of the aisle. At least one officer opened fire, striking the man.

The man, Daniel Elena Lopez, died at the scene.

Flowers are left at a makeshift memorial for the teenage girl who was killed by a police stray bullet at a Burlington store in North Hollywood, California. AFP

“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,” Capt Stacy Spell of the LAPD said in the posted video. Police believe the bullet skipped off the floor and struck the dressing room wall.

An investigation has been opened and it could take up to a year or more to complete, Capt 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,” Capt Spell said in the video.

The department’s policy is to release video from critical incidents, such as police shootings, within 45 days.

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

Updated: December 28, 2021, 9:15 PM