LOS ANGELES – Soledad Peralta and her daughter were trying on dresses for Christmas in a Burlington store on Thursday when they heard screams and got down on the ground.
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 opened fire on a man seen on video beating a woman with a metal bike lock. One of the bullets unknowingly pierced a wall behind the suspect and hit the teen – who had only been in the U.S. for six months and dreamed of becoming an American citizen and engineer before dying in her mother’s arms.
Peralta started screaming, but she says 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 on Thursday sparked intense criticism of the LAPD and questions about the tactics police used when an officer opened fire with a long rifle in a crowded department store just two days before Christmas. Valentina and the suspect, Daniel Elena Lopez, 24, both 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 and his attacks on multiple customers and the moments an officer opened fire with a long rifle.
The footage also shows police didn’t give any commands to the suspect, who was shot down the aisle from a bloodied assault victim. He could be seen holding the metal bike lock and a piece of artwork when he was shot.
The lone officer who opened fire, however, was told to “slow down” more than a dozen times by other responding officers before shots were fired, police footage shows. He has been placed on administrative leave, the department confirmed to USA TODAY, and has not yet been publicly identified.
The officers who responded were armed with a variety of weapons, including non-lethal firearms, and made their way toward the suspect as he was in midst of his attack on a woman who was shopping in the store. The officer who opened fire 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. At least one 911 call released by police showed officers were told the suspect may have been armed and had been shooting inside the crowded store – information that was later deemed incorrect.
Since the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, police departments across the country have largely changed procedures and protocols on responding to active shooters. Rather than secure an area and wait for backup, law enforcement first on the scene is generally trained to engage immediately.
Still, typical training for police departments includes making clear commands to a suspect with the ultimate goal to use the least amount of force necessary to stop a suspect and place them in custody.
A active shooter presentation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which has jurisdiction for a large area surrounding the city of L.A., notes the various tactics and procedures law enforcement uses in an active shooter scenario. It notes the primary goal in coming in contact with a suspect is to “stop suspects’ deadly behavior” and “take the suspect into custody.” It includes that law enforcement should “give clear and concise orders to the suspect.”
Attorneys for Valentina’s family said there was plenty that could have been done differently by police to have prevented 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 his trip planned from Chile to see her for Christmas. They had planned to attend a Lakers game and see LeBron James play, chatting 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 just got 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 for her that were ordered online continued to be delivered to their home since her death. The pain of seeing those gifts, he said, “cannot be articulated.”
The gifts, he said through tears, would now be placed on her grave.