Suspect in Burlington attack in which LAPD killed young bystander was on meth, autopsy shows
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.
The 24-year-old suspect whose attack on shoppers in a North Hollywood department store prompted a Los Angeles police shooting that killed him and a 14-year-old bystander was on methamphetamine at the time, according to an autopsy report released Wednesday.
Daniel Elena-Lopez, whom police shot a single time in the chest with a rifle after coming upon him attacking a woman with a metal bike lock in a store aisle, also had marijuana in his system, the Los Angeles County coroner’s office found.
A separate autopsy for 14-year-old Valentina Orellana-Peralta shows the girl, who was hiding in a changing room with her mother at the time of the Dec. 23 attack, also suffered a single gunshot wound to the chest.
Police have said one of multiple rounds fired by the officer with the rifle penetrated a wall behind Elena-Lopez, striking Valentina. The autopsy describes devastating injuries from the single round as it passed through her chest cavity and organs.
The autopsies shed new light on the circumstances behind the shooting, which spurred intense criticism and international condemnation of the police response given the girl’s death.
Valentina had arrived in the U.S. from her native Chile about six months before her death and had dreams of becoming an engineer and a U.S. citizen.
Her parents have questioned the LAPD’s actions. Her mother, Soledad Peralta, was in the dressing room with her daughter when she was fatally shot.
“I won’t rest until my daughter gets justice,” said her father, Juan Pablo Orellana, during a news conference outside police headquarters in downtown Los Angeles in late December.
The families’ attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
On the day of the shooting, multiple people had called 911 asking for police to respond to the Burlington store in the 12100 block of Victory Boulevard. At least one had claimed the man had a gun.
“There’s a guy with a gun,” the caller told a dispatcher, according to call recordings released by police.
When the dispatcher inquired about the suspect’s race, the caller replied, “We don’t know, Miss. It’s just shots.”
“So he shot the gun?” the dispatcher asked.
“Yes,” the caller said.
Video from the incident showed a squad of LAPD officers rush into the store looking for the suspect, their approach in part based on the report of a gunman. One officer armed with a rifle, identified as Officer William Dorsey Jones Jr., quickly moved to the front of the group.
When Jones saw a bloodied woman on the floor — who had just been beaten by Elena-Lopez with the bike lock — he shouted, “She’s bleeding!” and rushed forward.
“Hold up! Hold up!” screamed another officer, just before Jones saw Elena-Lopez standing at the end of an aisle and fired the rifle three times.
Elena-Lopez, who did not have a gun and who had been moving away from Jones and the victim when he was shot, slumped to the ground.
Police across the country are trained to rush into situations where there is an active shooter to stop the threat as quickly as possible. It is a tactical approach that has developed in the U.S. amid a wave of mass shootings.
Police officers have been criticized for not using it elsewhere — including most recently in Uvalde, Texas, where officers waited for an hour outside an elementary school where a gunman had killed more than 20 children and teachers and wounded others.
However, critics of the LAPD’s response at Burlington noted that it was not an active shooter situation, that police had not actually heard or seen any shots, and that Elena-Lopez didn’t have a gun.
Ben Crump, the high-profile attorney representing Valentina’s family, has said the LAPD response was unjustifiable.
“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 days after the shooting. “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.”
The shooting remains under investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department.
The department also has said it would be auditing its training on the use of deadly force after a spike in police shootings in 2021, including of suspects without guns, such as Elena-Lopez.
LAPD Chief Michel Moore and other city officials have apologized to Valentina’s family, calling her death a tragedy. Moore has promised a thorough investigation.
The autopsy for Elena-Lopez said his toxicology testing was “positive for methamphetamine, marijuana, and their metabolites.”
The report noted Elena-Lopez had a 1-year-old daughter.
The autopsy for Valentina said she was shot in the dressing room after a bullet pierced the wall and a gray hooded sweatshirt hanging on a hook.
The coroner noted the girl’s glasses were still perched above her forehead, her cellphone was on the bench, and drywall dust from the bullet-pierced wall speckled her black pants.
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