Mother of 14-year-old girl killed in LAPD shooting held her daughter as she died
Soledad Peralta closed her eyes, wrapped her arms around her teenage daughter and prayed for their safety inside the Burlington store dressing room.
They could hear screams and commotion around them as police searched for a man assaulting customers inside the North Hollywood store where Peralta and her daughter had gone to try on dresses two days before Christmas.
As they held one another, Peralta felt an explosion that threw them both to the ground. Her daughter’s body convulsed then went limp.
A Los Angeles police officer had shot a round through the dressing room wall, killing 14-year-old Valentina Orellana-Peralta.
“She died in my arms. I couldn’t do anything,” Peralta said in Spanish. “Our sweet angel is gone forever.”
Peralta fought back tears while describing the harrowing scene as she and the girl’s father, Juan Pablo Orellana, stood outside LAPD headquarters in downtown L.A. on Tuesday to demand justice for their daughter.
Handmade paper signs reading “Justice for our daughter, Valentina” in English and Spanish hung over their chests as they tearfully spoke about their daughter, a girl who they described as being full of joy and someone who had big dreams for her future.
Valentina arrived in the U.S. from Chile about 6 months ago and was an exceptional student. On their way to the Burlington store on the day she died, Valentina told her mother about her desire to continue to make good grades and eventually become an engineer and a U.S. citizen. Those dreams will now never be a reality, her parents said.
The LAPD released video of the fatal police shooting inside a Burlington clothing store last week that left a suspect and a 14-year-old girl dead.
Orellana, a bank clerk who had traveled from the family’s native Chile to Los Angeles on Sunday, held back tears as he spoke about the devastation his daughter’s killing had brought.
“When I got a phone call and heard that my daughter had been killed by the Los Angeles Police Department, my world came tumbling down on me,” he said in Spanish. “I don’t have words to describe what I’m going through.”
Orellana held up a skateboard wrapped in clear plastic— the Christmas present Valentina had asked for and now will never receive. Instead of opening gifts with her, he said, he will place them in her grave.
“Look, it’s brand new, it hasn’t been opened,” he said, emotion etched on his face. “I won’t rest until my daughter gets justice.”
The parents spoke alongside several attorneys — including Ben Crump, a high-profile figure in excessive police force cases nationally, whom the father has retained to represent them.
Crump has represented other families caught in the spotlight after police killed their loved ones, including the family of George Floyd, whose killing by Minneapolis police in 2020 sparked global protests over police brutality.
Crump said Tuesday that Valentina’s family wanted the world to know that their daughter “was beautiful, intelligent and had the whole world ahead of her,” and that she “made exceptional grades at an English-speaking school even though English was not her native tongue.”
Crump also said the family wants justice — and will pursue it.
“We should not have to sacrifice innocent life in the name of safety when it was foreseeable that two days before Christmas, that there were going to be people in a shopping plaza shopping,” Crump said. “The family thinks things could have been done differently, to where Valentina wouldn’t have been collateral damage [and] would still be here getting ready to celebrate Christmas.”
Police are trained to kill or arrest any shooters before taking other actions, including helping victims. But that approach can have serious drawbacks.
Police officials have said that the shooting is under investigation and that the actions of all of the officers involved will be reviewed. They promised the investigation would be thorough, calling the girl’s death tragic. The California Department of Justice is also investigating the shooting.
The tragedy has sparked outrage and debate over how police should respond to scenarios like the one inside Burlington — especially when it’s unclear whether a suspect is armed and firing.
Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin said on Twitter that the use of force was unjustifiable. Police didn’t give verbal commands and the suspect was not armed with a gun nor was he advancing at officers or potential victims, he said.
“I’m hopeful an investigation will come to the same conclusion. If this is somehow found to be within LAPD policy and protocol, those policies and protocols must be changed,” he said.
Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Krekorian said in a statement that the “people of Los Angeles need to know exactly what happened and how it happened, and how Valentina’s tragic death could have been prevented.”
The shooting also killed the suspect, 24-year-old Daniel Elena-Lopez, who can be seen in video from the Burlington store attacking multiple people with a bike lock on a chain, seriously injuring one woman.
Elena-Lopez had just beaten that woman with the lock moments before police rushed in and an officer opened fire as Elena-Lopez moved away from them.
Christian Contreras, an attorney with League of United Latin American Citizens, said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon that his team has requested a meeting with Mayor Eric Garcetti and police Chief Michel Moore to discuss the LAPD’s tactics. So far, the organization has not received a response, he said.
“There is nothing that affects these officers when they shoot and kill,” Contreras said. “We’re here calling for meaningful reform and to tell LAPD and the city of Los Angeles to show some dignity.”
Valentina’s aunt, Carolina Peralta, in Chile, said Valentina was born and raised in the working-class neighborhood of Macul in Santiago, Chile’s capital. She was a shy girl but was happy reuniting with family and her older sister in the U.S., Peralta said.
“My sister does not understand how this tragedy could have happened just when they had managed to reunite the family,” her aunt said.
As the morning press conference came to an end, Valentina’s parents stood side by side near a large picture of their daughter framed by a circle of white roses. More than a dozen activists and supporters also gathered around, some holding “Wanted” signs for the officer who shot Valentina. Others held pictures of the young girl as they led a chant in her memory.
“Valentina’s life matters.”
Special correspondent Jorge Poblete in Santiago, Chile, contributed to this report.
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