The heartbroken mother and father of a 14-year-old girl struck and killed by a stray bullet during a police shooting at a Southern California clothing store spoke Tuesday at a news conference one day after the LAPD released video of the violent encounter that led to the teen's death.
Family members at the news conference in front of LAPD headquarters were accompanied by attorney Ben Crump, who also represented the family of George Floyd. A portrait of Valentina Orellana-Peralta, who was with her mother and trying on dresses at the store, was displayed at the news conference outside LAPD headquarters.
Valentina loved skateboarding and had dreams of becoming an engineer to build robots, her family said.
Get Southern California news, weather forecasts and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC LA newsletters.
“Her most important dream… was to become an American citizen,” Crump said. “Tragically, that will never happen.
“They came to America from Chile to get away from violence and injustice to have a better life in America. They can’t believe this happened in America.”
The girl’s father, speaking through a translator, said Christmas was difficult. Juan Pablo said gifts he bought for her, including a skateboard, will be brought to her grave.
In addition to becoming an American citizen, he said Valentina dreamed of seeing the Lakers and LeBron James play basketball.
Video from an officer's body-worn camera shows what happened Thursday when officers fired on an assault suspect and a bullet went through the wall and struck the girl as she was in a Burlington store dressing room. The man had attacked other people in the store with a bike cable lock, police said.
Valentina’s mother, Soledad, said they were trying on clothes for Christmas when they heard the confrontation outside the store dressing room. Police had encountered the suspect attacking another woman near the exterior rear wall of the dressing room.
“Valentina went to lock the door to protect us,” she said in a statement read at the news conference. “We started hugging each other tighter. We were praying. I was praying for her, and I believe she was praying for me.
“All of the sudden, something impacted her. It threw us to the floor, and she died in my arms."
Attorneys did not announce any immediate legal action in connection with the case.
“They can never get Valentina back,” Crump said of Valentina’s family. “What they want Valentina’s legacy to be is that no one will ever be killed like this in this manner.”
Police also fatally shot the assault with a deadly weapon suspect Thursday morning at the Burlington store in the North Hollywood area of the San Fernando Valley, police said.
The Los Angeles County coroner identified the girl as Valentina and the suspect as Daniel Elena Lopez, 24. Online coroner records show their autopsies have been completed and their causes of death were both a gunshot wound to the chest.
Officers responded to the North Hollywood store Thursday as they answered a report of an assault and others of shots being fired, police said. Investigators have not found a gun at the scene.
The suspect, who was wielding a bike chain and lock, was shot and died at the scene, but one of the bullets went through drywall behind the man and killed Valentina, police said.
Officers found the teenager dead after seeing a hole in “a solid wall that you can't see behind,” LAPD Assistant Chief Dominic Choi said.
Investigators didn't immediately know whether she was in the dressing room before the violence began or ran in there to hide, he said.
“This chaotic incident resulting in the death of an innocent child is tragic and devastating for everyone involved,” Police Chief Michel Moore said in a statement late Thursday night. “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 promised a “thorough, complete and transparent investigation” into the shooting and said a critical incident video that will include 911 calls, body camera and other video will be released by Monday.
The woman who was attacked is not being identified.
Investigators were trying to determine whether the assault was random or targeted. Choi said they don't believe the teenager was related to the person who was attacked.
Police found a heavy metal cable lock near the suspect, Choi said.
The California Department of Justice was investigating the shooting, Attorney General Rob Bonta said.
Multiple signs posted in Spanish and English that read “closed until further notice!!!” greeted would-be shoppers as others left flowers and a flickering candle in a memorial for the teen outside the store.
LAPD officers have shot at least 37 people — 17 of them fatally — in 2021 after another police shooting occurred on Friday, according to the Los Angeles Times. Those figures mark a dramatic rise in cases where officers shot or killed people in either of the last two years — 27 people were shot and 7 of them killed by LA police in all of 2020. In 2019, officers shot 26 people, killing 12.
The shooting recalled a July 21, 2018, confrontation in which LAPD officers accidentally shot and killed a woman at a Trader Joe’s market. Officers got into a gunfight with a man who authorities say shot his grandmother and girlfriend before leading police on a chase that ended when he crashed his car outside the market.
A police bullet killed Melyda Corado, 27, the assistant store manager, as she ran toward the store’s entrance after hearing the car crash.
The suspect, Gene Evin Atkins, took employees and shoppers hostage for three hours before surrendering, authorities said. Atkins has pleaded not guilty to the killing.
Prosecutors found two police officers acted lawfully when they returned Atkins’ gunfire.