The mother of a teen girl who was accidentally struck by a police bullet Thursday in the dressing room of a Los Angeles Burlington Coat Factory described holding her daughter in her arms as she died.
Soledad Peralta, wiping tears from her eyes Tuesday at a press conference outside Los Angeles Police Department headquarters, said she and her slain daughter Valentina Orellana-Peralta, 14, were trying on dresses for Christmas in a changing room when they heard loud noises.
“She went to lock the door to try to protect us,” Peralta read in Spanish from a statement, which was translated by one of her attorneys. “We started hugging each other tighter and started praying…All of a sudden we felt an explosion that threw us both to the ground. That’s when I started to see white coming out of Valentina’s body as she started having convulsions.”
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Police fired on a suspect who allegedly attacked several women in the store, and a bullet ricocheted off the floor and pierced the wall of the dressing room, striking Orellana-Peralta in the chest.
“Her body went limp,” said Peralta, standing beside her husband and the girl’s father, Juan Pablo. “I tried to wake her up by shaking her, but she didn’t wake up…she died in my arms and there was nothing I could do.”
Attorney Ben Crump, who also spoke at the press conference, said the family had moved to the U.S. from Chile about six months earlier to escape the violence in their native country and to have a better future. “They can’t believe this happened in America,” the lawyer said.
Pablo was in Chile when his daughter was shot.
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“My whole heart has been ripped out,” he read from a statement in Spanish, tears streaming down his cheeks. On Christmas Eve — one day after her death — Amazon delivered a skateboard she had ordered, which Pablo held up at the press conference.
“We’ll have to take it to her grave so she can skate with the angels,” he said. The other gifts he bought her for Christmas will also be placed at her grave.
The parents said their daughter loved the color pink and was an excellent student, who dreamed of becoming an engineer.
“She wanted to be here in the United States because this was the land of opportunity,” her father said.
On Monday, police released body camera footage and surveillance video from inside the North Hollywood store that showed the chaos unfold before the suspect and child were killed.
The suspect, Daniel Elena Lopez, 24, is shown arriving at the store on a bicycle at around 11 a.m. and using a bike lock to smash a computer and glass railing. He then tried to rob a woman, smacking her with the metal lock, police said.
As another woman pushed a shopping cart, Lopez came up behind her and hit her over the head with the lock. As she crawled away, he continued beating her, according to police.
Crump said that the family believes the LAPD could have prevented the tragedy but didn’t elaborate on the forthcoming lawsuit.
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An LAPD spokesman said the department doesn’t comment on pending litigation.