The family of a 14-year-old girl who was shot and killed by a stray bullet fired by a Los Angeles Police Department officer while she was in a dressing room said they want justice for their daughter.
Valentina Orellana Peralta was killed while shopping with her mother at a North Hollywood Burlington Coat Factory on Thursday, the day before Christmas Eve, when a man armed with what appeared to be a bike lock began attacking customers. Chaos erupted in the store. Employees and witnesses called 911 to report the crime, but due to the panic and confusion inside the store, police arrived on the scene believing that the man was likely carrying a firearm, the LAPD said. When officers arrived, they shot and killed the man, identified by police as Daniel Elena Lopez, 24.
However, one of the bullets that officers fired at Elena Lopez pierced the dressing room door where Valentina and her mother were sheltering in place. She died in her mom's arms.
"We heard some screams and sat down and hugged and started crying," Valentina's mother, Soledad Peralta, said in a statement translated from Spanish to English during a press conference Tuesday. “Valentina went to lock the door to protect us. We started hugging each other tighter. We were praying. I was praying for her, and I believe she was praying for me."
Suddenly, Soledad said, something hit Valentina with a strong enough force to throw her and her daughter to the ground.
"I saw white powder coming out of Valentina's body and she began to go through convulsions. Her body went limp. I tried to wake her up by shaking her," Soledad said. "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."
Soledad said that police did not respond to her screams for help until after her daughter was dead.
"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," she said.
Police Chief Michel R. Moore issued a statement addressing the shooting on Friday in which he promised an extensive investigation.
“This chaotic incident resulting in the death of an innocent child is tragic and devastating for everyone involved," he said. "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."
Moore said the department will conduct a "thorough, complete and transparent investigation into the circumstances that led up to this tragedy and provide the family and public with as much information as possible."
In addition to the LAPD's review, the California Department of Justice is conducting an independent investigation into the shooting.
On Monday night, the LAPD released a 35-minute video of 911 call recordings and edited surveillance and body camera footage of the events leading up to the shooting and its aftermath.
Although Valentina cannot be seen in the video, her mother's scream can be heard after the shooting stopped.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Valentina's aunt Carolina Peralta said that her niece and sister came to California from their home country of Chile approximately six months ago.
She said that Valentina's sister was working in a local restaurant and they traveled to the US to visit her. The trip turned into a longer stay, she told the LA Times, and mother and daughter had begun the immigration process in order to live in the country permanently.
"Valentina was a shy girl in Chile, but everything was turning out well for her in the US," Carolina Peralta said. "She was catching up with English and being more outgoing. She was happy to be with her older sister."
"[Soledad] does not understand how this tragedy could have happened just when they had managed to reunite the family," she said.
During Tuesday's press conference, lawyers for the family did not announce any legal proceedings but said that they were considering all possible options, including a possible civil lawsuit.
"We want justice for our angel. Our precious little angel, Valentina," Soledad said.
Ben Crump, one of the attorneys representing the family, said the family wanted people to know that Valentina was "beautiful, intelligent, and had the whole world ahead of her."
He also read out loud a statement from her dad, Juan Pablo Orellana Larenas, who had traveled to Los Angeles from Chile. He said his daughter once described the US as "the safest country in the world."
"It is like my whole heart has been ripped out of my body," the father's statement said. "She had dreams, and tragically those dreams have been overshadowed by this nightmare that has prevented me from sleeping at night."