Teenage girl shot dead by police seeking new life, family says
LOS ANGELES – She had been in the States for less than a year, but already her principal at a tech-focused charter school in Los Angeles knew her as an excellent math and physics student.
In the days leading up to Christmas, 14-year-old Valentina Orellana Peralta spoke about her life with her father, who had planned to come from Chile for the holidays. She wanted to take him to a Lakers game to see LeBron James play. She had ordered a skateboard and wanted to go back to school with moves to show off.
As she walked to a Burlington store in the San Fernando Valley to buy a Christmas dress on Thursday, Orellana Peralta also spoke to her mother about her biggest dreams – going to college. Above all, the teenager aspired to become an American citizen.
But it was in the United States that those dreams were cut short, Ms. Orellana Peralta’s parents said in tears on Tuesday, their voices disintegrating into sobs at a press conference outside the Los Angeles Police Department headquarters. .
In what authorities described as a horrific mistake, Ms Orellana Peralta was killed by a police bullet that ricocheted off the store floor in North Hollywood as an officer opened fire on Daniel Elena Lopez, 24 . Mr Elena Lopez, all the footage showed, had attacked buyers with a bicycle lock before they arrived.
“This is what my daughter found here: death,” said Juan Pablo Orellana Larenas, her father, surrounded by family lawyers, led by Ben Crump, the civil rights lawyer who represented the families of the high-profile victims of police murders around the country, including George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Soledad Peralta, the mother of Ms Orellana Peralta, recounted how she tried on clothes with her daughter in a lodge as a commotion started outside. They stayed there to hide. Her daughter, she recalls, locked the door to protect them both.
As the loud noises continued outside, they huddled together and prayed. Then suddenly, Ms. Peralta recalls, they were both knocked to the ground in what looked like an explosion. She saw her daughter’s limp body on the floor and started screaming for help – a frightening sound that was audible in officers’ body camera videos of the incident. The girl died in her mother’s arms.
When the police entered the room, Ms. Peralta said, they forced her to leave her daughter.
Los Angeles Police Shooting
A stray bullet killed a teenage girl as police shot a suspect in a Los Angeles store on December 23, 2021.
“She represented the world to me, her family, her friends, her classmates,” she said. “Now our sweet angel is gone forever. ”
The case has hit a nerve in Los Angeles, where debates over criminal justice reform and police accountability have raged for years, even before tens of thousands of Angelenos flocked to the streets of the city. town during last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, spurred by the murder of Mr Floyd by a police officer who was later convicted of murder. The angst has also been fueled by an ongoing spate of police shootings across California.
Family members at the press conference carried signs around their necks reading “Justice for Valentina” and local activists stood by, wearing shirts that read “Black Lives Matter” and “Defund the Police”. At the end of the press conference, some raised their fists and chanted: “Valentina’s life matters”.
Many police detractors have expressed outrage at aspects of the shooting – the speed with which an officer opened fire on Mr. Elena Lopez when he did not have a gun, the fact that the police officers did not ensure that the area was free from passers-by. .
“Don’t you have the ability to just tackle him to the ground?” Said Chloe Cheyenne Rogers, an activist who started the Justice for Valentina petition, which has nearly 5,000 signatures. “Can’t you use any part of your training to be able to take this person in a way that doesn’t include your assault rifle?” “
Although the police department has yet to confirm the identity of the officer, activists have shared what they believe to be his name and badge number on social media based on the images released by the camera. bodily.
Ms Rogers, who shared the information on her own Instagram account, said she did so to ensure the officer was “not protected or sheltered by the LAPD”.
In the footage, released Monday as part of a 35-minute compilation that also included calls to 911 and a security video of the incident, an officer with a rifle asks his colleagues to slow down so he can direct their search for the man who had attacked customers.
“Let me take the point with the rifle,” he said.
The situation seems to escalate when the police encounter a bloodied-faced woman who was most seriously injured, and they cry out. “To slow down!” shouts an officer, then: “Wait! Hold on!”
But almost instantly after Mr. Elena Lopez becomes visible around the corner of an alley, the officer with the rifle opens fire above the injured woman’s head, firing what appear to be three shots in succession. fast with no apparent warning.
Officers had been advised that the perpetrator may have had a gun. A 911 caller said so and said there had been “gunshots” in the store, although a store employee told the police dispatcher, correctly, that the man attacked people with bicycle locks and had no knife or gun. .
Tom Saggau, spokesperson for the Los Angeles Police Union, said a number of 911 callers reported Mr. Lopez had a gun.
“When they walked into the store they thought they were up against an active shooter,” he said. “What changes mentalities.” He said officers are trained to respond based on the highest potential threat level.
But Philip M. Stinson, a professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University who studies police violence, said officers must also consider their surroundings and the likelihood of bystanders, even when entering a potentially situation. violent.
“The question will come down to whether, in the opinion of many, lethal force was necessary to stop the threat,” Professor Stinson said after reviewing video of Thursday’s shooting.
He noted that Mr. Elena Lopez did not appear to be “within 10 feet of someone when he was shot,” and police had learned that there were still people in the store.
The immediate response from city officials was largely heartache, rather than calls for reform.
Mayor Eric Garcetti issued a short statement promising “transparency, sensitivity and accountability”. Other local officials echoed this, but said they did not want to draw any conclusions about whether policy changes might be warranted.
But Domingo Garcia, the national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, a Hispanic civil rights organization, said in a statement that the shooting was the latest in a long and disturbing series of such incidents by members of the Los Angeles Police Department implicating Latinos.
“It is evident that the days of filming first, questions second, once again raise their ugly heads in one of the biggest law enforcement agencies in the land,” Garcia said.
Mr Crump, whose colleagues said details of a possible legal action against the police department would be released, said the family wanted the kind of justice that would help ensure that no one else becomes a ‘pity. collateral ”during a meeting with the police.
“We shouldn’t have to sacrifice innocent lives in the name of security, when it was predictable that two days before Christmas there would be people in a mall, shopping,” he said. declared.