LOS ANGELES – Family and friends gathered Monday to not only mourn the loss of a 14-year-old girl shot and killed by a Los Angeles police officer’s stray bullet inside a Burlington department store, but also to vow to fight to prevent such a tragedy.
Valentina Orellana Peralta died two days before Christmas while she was shopping with her mother in a dressing room. The pair had been shopping for a new dress for the holidays.
Valentina was killed after Los Angeles Police Department Officer William Jones opened fire on a man who had assaulted multiple women inside the store and had beaten one victim with a bicycle lock. One of the officer’s bullets pierced a wall behind the suspect, hitting Valentina.
The teen died in her mother’s arms on the floor of the dressing room.
Jones has been put on administrative leave as a variety of agencies investigate the shooting. Audio and video released by the LAPD show he was told to slow down more than a dozen times by fellow responding officers and did not give any commands to the suspect before opening fire. The suspect, Daniel Elena Lopez, 24, also died in the shooting.
The family’s lawyers, Ben Crump and Rahul Ravipudi, told mourners in English and Spanish at the service held at the City of Refuge Church in Gardena, Calif., just south of L.A., that Valentina’s death would not be in vain. They vowed justice for her and other immigrants who come to the U.S. for a better, safer future.
“We pray for peace and justice, for this innocent blood spilled,” Crump told the crowd before leading them in a chant of “Valentina is innocent.”
“Valentina’s innocent blood will not come off the hands of the Los Angeles Police Department as long as they attempt to justify these unjustifiable actions,” he added.
Valentina moved to the U.S. from her native Chile about six months before her death. She was excited about passing her math and physics exams and had dreams of becoming an engineer.
As the service started, mourners said their goodbyes to the teen. A bouquet of pink and purple flowers sat atop her partially opened casket. Two large photos of her, along with multiple flower arrangements, flanked the small casket. A Spanish rendition of How Great Thou Art played as the teen’s parents tearfully leaned over the casket and tried to hold their daughter once more.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who offered a eulogy in both languages, told the crowd of his decades of fighting for reforms at the LAPD after Rodney King was beaten by officers, an event that led to deadly riots in 1992.
“Through those 31 years, we keep seeing LAPD get it wrong. And here we are again. How long will it take for you to get it right?” Sharpton questioned.
The prominent civil rights leader noted the issue of race in the shooting, acknowledging the officer who killed Valentina was Black.
“The circumstance of nationality and race is important. It’s important because we need to make it clear that we don’t just fight for our own because we all are our own, whether you’re from South Central, Harlem or Chile,” Sharpton said. “Justice must be justice no matter who it is and who’s involved. I don’t feel better if I’m shot by a black cop.”
Valentina’s family, most of whom wore T-shirts and hoodies with her face on them and calls for justice for her, spoke of the teen’s ambition and the love she had for animals and the Los Angeles Lakers. She wanted to study engineering and build robots — including one that could help her mother clean the house. Her father remembered her exceptional work to overcome language barriers, learning English in the six months she was in the U.S., and her biggest dream — to become a U.S. citizen.
“She had many dreams and aspirations, like any other teenager,” said her father, Juan Pablo Orellana Larenas. “She always told us that this country was the safest country in the whole world. Unfortunately, she only came to this country to face her death.”
He added the pain of not having his daughter was something “we will never overcome.”
“They have destroyed us as a family, as parents,” Larenas said. But, he said, it has given his life new purpose: fighting for justice for his daughter and ensuring this never happens again.