Los Angeles, CA – A 14-year-old girl who was trying on dresses for her upcoming quinceanera in a dressing room at Burlington on Thursday afternoon was accidentally shot by police when officers opened fire on an assault suspect inside the store.
Police received a 911 call just before noon on Dec. 23 from the North Hollywood Burlington store located at Laurel Canyon and Victory Boulevards, KCAL reported.
The caller reported hearing people arguing and shots fired inside the store.
Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Captain Stacy Spell said that as officers were responding to the call at the shopping center, 911 received multiple reports of an active shooter at the same location, KCAL reported.
The suspect was beating a woman inside the store when officers arrived.
“As the officers were responding, they arrived at this location and began a search, looking for a suspect,” Capt. Spell said. “While conducting that search for a suspect, the officers encountered an individual who was in the process of assaulting another, and an officer-involved shooting occurred.”
Police said the suspect was fatally shot, KCAL reported.
LAPD Assistant Chief Dominic Choi said that officers conducted a search of the area immediately after the shooting and found a hole in a piece of drywall behind where the suspect had been standing when he was shot.
“We went behind it [the wall], and it turned out to be a dressing room up there,” Assistant Chief Choi said. “We were able to locate a 14-year-old female who was found deceased in that dressing room.”
He said investigators were working to confirm who fired the bullet that killed the 14 year old, KCAL reported.
“Preliminarily, we believe that round was an officer’s round,” the assistant chief told reporters.
The L.A. County Coroner identified the girl as Valentina Orellana-Peralta, KABC reported.
The victim’s mother was in the dressing room with her when she was shot, helping her daughter try on dresses for her upcoming 15th birthday party, a source told the Los Angeles Times.
The woman who was being beaten by the suspect when the police intervened was transported to the hospital covered in blood, but conscious, KCAL reported.
It turned out that the suspect shot by police did not have a gun; he had been attacking random customers with a metal chain lock.
“We did not find a gun,” Assistant Chief Choi said in an interview immediately after the shooting. “However, until the coroner gets here and we do a full search of the suspect, that won’t be definitive. But right now we haven’t located a firearm.”
An employee who was there told KCAL she saw the suspect attack one of his victims.
“I was with other customers trying to take them to the exit, and the suspect was waiting downstairs,” the employee said. “The customer in front of me, he attacked her and hit her with a bike chain.”
Assistant Chief Choi confirmed that officers found a “steel or metal cable lock, a very heavy lock,” near the suspect’s body, KCAL reported.
LAPD urged patience while the shootings were investigated.
“We are at the very preliminary part of this investigation,” Capt. Spell said. “There is still surveillance video to look at, witnesses to talk to, and we are looking at body worn video.”
Assistant Chief Choi said the LAPD Force Investigation Division and L.A. County Inspector General’s Office were both on the scene investigating, according to KCAL.
He said that at that point things were so preliminary that investigators had not yet reviewed the store’s security camera video footage or the officers’ bodycam videos.
The California Department of Justice Police Shooting Investigation Team for Southern California was also conducting an investigation into the incident, KCAL reported.
LAPD Police Chief Michel Moore was out of town when the incident occurred but released a statement.
“This chaotic incident resulting in the death of an innocent child is tragic and devastating for everyone involved,” Chief Moore said. “I am profoundly sorry for the loss of this young girl’s life and I know there are no words that can relieve the unimaginable pain for the family. My commitment is to conduct a thorough, complete and transparent investigation into the circumstances that led up to this tragedy and provide the family and public with as much information as possible.”
The police chief went on to promise that LAPD would release the critical incident video – including 911 calls, bodycam, and security videos – by Monday, KCAL reported.