LOS ANGELES – Soledad Peralta and her daughter were trying on dresses for Christmas in a Burlington store Thursday when they heard screams.
Her daughter, Valentina Orellana-Peralta, 14, locked the doors to the dressing room. They hit the floor, hugged one another tightly, closed their eyes and prayed.
Moments later, three pops sounded, and Valentina started convulsing.
“I tried to wake her up by shaking her, but she didn’t wake up,” Peralta said in a statement read by one of her attorneys as others behind her held up large photos of the teen.
A Los Angeles police officer had fired on a man seen on video beating a woman with a metal bike lock. One of the bullets pierced a wall behind the suspect and hit the teen – who had been in the USA for only six months and dreamed of becoming an American citizen and engineer. She died in her mother’s arms.
Peralta said she screamed but help didn’t immediately arrive. Police eventually pulled her from the dressing room, she said. Her daughter’s body remained on the ground, limp.
She and Valentina’s father, Juan Pablo Orellana Larenas – who traveled from their native Chile – shared more about their daughter and the day she was killed during a news conference Tuesday with their attorneys, who vowed justice for the teen. Peralta sobbed, wearing a sign that read, “Justicia para nuestra hija, Valentina,” which translates from Spanish to “Justice for our daughter, Valentina.”
Her father wore a similar sign in English. Nearby, a large photo of their daughter sat on an easel surrounded by white roses.
“To see a son or daughter die in your arms is one of the greatest pains and most profound pains that any human being can imagine,” Peralta said through a translator at the news conference. “Valentina meant the world to us, to her family, to her friends and to her schoolmates. And now our sweet angel has left forever.”
The shooting Thursday sparked intense criticism of the LAPD and questions about the tactics police used when an officer fired with a long rifle in a crowded department store two days before Christmas. Valentina and the suspect, Daniel Elena Lopez, 24, died in the shooting.
The LAPD released an edited video package online Monday that included 911 calls, police radio transmissions, body camera footage and surveillance video from the shooting. The array of footage showed the suspect’s erratic movements in the store, his attacks on multiple customers and the moment the officer fired.
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In the footage, police didn’t give any commands to the suspect, who was shot down the aisle from a bloodied assault victim. He held the metal bike lock and a piece of artwork when he was shot.
The lone officer who fired was told to “slow down” more than a dozen times by other responding officers before shots were fired, police footage shows. He was placed on administrative leave, the department confirmed to USA TODAY, and was not publicly identified.
The officers were armed with a variety of weapons, including nonlethal firearms, and made their way toward the suspect in the midst of his attack on a woman who was shopping in the store. The officer who fired was armed with a long rifle and offered to lead the group of officers.
How officers respond to such incidents has evolved over the years. A 911 call released by police showed officers were told the suspect had been shooting inside the crowded store – information that was later deemed incorrect.
Since the shooting in 1999 at Columbine High School in Colorado, police departments across the country have changed procedures and protocols on responding to active shooters. Instead of securing an area and waiting for backup, law enforcement officers have been trained to engage immediately on the scene.
An active shooter presentation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which has jurisdiction for a large area surrounding the city of LA, notes the primary goal when law enforcement officers contact a suspect is to “stop suspect’s deadly behavior” and “take the suspect into custody” with the least amount of force necessary. Officers should “give clear and concise orders to the suspect.”
Attorneys for Valentina’s family said police could have done plenty differently to prevent her death.
“Never should this 14-year-old girl ended up as collateral damage,” civil rights attorney Ben 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, there were going to be people in a shopping plaza shopping.”
The teen’s father had planned the trip from Chile to see her for Christmas. They were going to attend a Lakers game and see LeBron James play. They chatted on the phone the day before her death about how she’d passed her math and physics exams at High Tech Los Angeles Charter High School. He said she loved skateboarding and had a new skateboard she wanted to show friends at school. Her favorite color was pink.
“It is like my whole heart has been ripped out of my body,” Larenas said in a statement read by attorneys. “My daughter was special. She had dreams, and tragically those dreams have been overshadowed by this nightmare that prevents me from sleeping at night.”
He said Christmas gifts ordered online for her were delivered to their home after her death. The pain of seeing those gifts, he said, “cannot be articulated.”
The gifts, he said through tears, would be placed on her grave.
‘This too shall pass away’ this famous Persian adage seems to be defeating us again and again in the case of COVID-19. Despite every effort