Sharpton leads call for justice for teen shooting victim

Wave Wire Services

GARDENA — The Rev. Al Sharpton called for justice and change Jan. 10 while delivering the eulogy at the funeral for Valentina Orellana-Peralta, the 14-year-old girl fatally struck by a stray bullet fired by Los Angeles police at an assault suspect inside a Burlington store in North Hollywood last month.

Valentina, who moved to Los Angeles from Chile six months before the Dec. 23 shooting, was killed in a dressing room while shopping with her mother for a Christmas dress. The police were responding to a report of an active shooting and also fatally shot the suspect, 24-year-old Daniel Elena Lopez, who did not have a gun.

“There is nothing normal about shooting so recklessly that a young teenage girl looking to live the American dream — that was shopping with her dear mother Soledad possibly getting a Christmas dress — ends up being dressed for her funeral,” Sharpton said. “This could have been my daughter. This could have been your daughter. And if we don’t stop it, it will be your daughter or my daughter. This must stop.”

The civil-rights leader added that he came to Los Angeles more than three decades ago, in 1991, following the LAPD’s beating of Rodney King to lead marches and call for the prosecution of the officers responsible.

“Through those 31 years, we keep seeing LAPD get it wrong, and here we are again. How long it will it take for you to get it right?” he said.

“We must make new laws, we must make new training. Those who do not know how to go into department stores … and not shoot like this is the wild, wild west, must be held accountable,” Sharpton said.

The ceremony, which took place at the City of Refuge Church, focused heavily on calling for justice and change in the wake of the shooting.

Valentina’s parents said their daughter — a student at High Tech Los Angeles Charter School — had dreams of becoming a robotics engineer and an American citizen, and going to see a Los Angeles Lakers game with her father.

“She always told us that her greatest dream was to become a U.S. citizen. … She wasn’t going to rest until she had her dream fulfilled. She always told us that this country, it was the safest country in the world. Unfortunately she was mistaken. She only came to this country to face her death,” Juan Pablo Orellana, Valentina’s father, said through a translator.

Calling for justice for his daughter, Orellana said, “They have destroyed us as a family, as parents … it only gives us the desire to live, that the flag of our cause, justice for our daughter Valentina … give us strength to continue this fight. We know that we’ll win, and only we will live a little bit with peace, knowing that your death was not in vain.”

Attorney Rahul Ravipudi, noting that Valentina’s family came to the U.S. to be in a country where they thought Valentina would be safe and protected, spoke about what he believed Valentina’s legacy would be.

“With Valentina’s spirit guiding us, we will expose that truth, hold accountable those that are responsible for her death and implement changes that will allow all Americans, all immigrants and everyone to feel that same American dream, the one where we’re raising children in a place that we feel safe and protected, that is the cause of Valentina,” Ravipudi said.

A translator speaking on behalf of Valentina’s mother Soledad Peralta — who gave a tearful speech about her daughter — said, “She’s trying to understand what was her daughter’s purpose, but she thinks that it was a mission of peace and of love.”

Valentina’s cousin, Emily Carr, spoke about how loved Valentina was by her family, and who she had grown into during her 14 years.

“Valentina was pensive and quiet, always thoughtful, always thinking. She absorbed the world around her like a sponge. Always analyzing, appreciating people and places around her,” Carr said.

“With so much love around her, it is no question that Valentina grew such a big heart, all of her dreams consisted of applying herself into helping others. In only 14 years, Valentina was making all of the people who loved her proud. This is what we will remember when we think of Valentina.”

Valentina’s open casket was on display in front of the altar during the funeral, with Valentina seen dressed in a pink dress, which her family said was her favorite color.

A public viewing was held Jan. 8 at Angelus Funeral Home in the Leimert Park area. Later that day, a group of demonstrators marched from the Burlington store on Laurel Canyon Boulevard to the Los Angeles Police Department’s North Hollywood station on Burbank Boulevard to demand justice over the girl’s killing.

Following the funeral service, many of those same activists took part in a caravan to California Attorney General Rob Bonta’s downtown Los Angeles office.

“Valentina’s innocent blood will not come off the hands of the Los Angeles Police Department as long as they attempt to justify the unjustifiable actions that caused your 14-year-old angel to spill her innocent blood,” civil rights attorney Ben Crump said during his remarks at the funeral. “Because, repeat after me, Valentina’s innocent … this is our plea for justice.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti said Jan. 6 that the city will “look comprehensively” at everything including training, tactics and policies in its investigation into the killing. Three Los Angeles City Council members Jan. 7 introduced a motion aimed at ensuring public transparency during the investigation.

LAPD Officer William Jones, who shot Valentina while confronting the suspect, has been placed on administrative leave while authorities investigate the shooting. The officer’s union said that Jones had recently completed a course on how to handle an active shooter situation and was following his training.

Police fatally shot 24-year-old Daniel Elena Lopez — who did not have a gun — but a bullet fired by Jones pierced a wall and struck Valentina. Lopez had entered the store with his bicycle and started randomly attacking customers with a bike chain lock, leaving one woman bloodied on the floor as officers arrived on the scene.

The LAPD released body camera and surveillance footage of the entire violent incident, and a coalition of civil rights groups has called for Jones to be arrested and prosecuted for involuntary manslaughter.

The LAPD’s Force Investigation Division and Inspector General’s Office are both investigating the shooting, along with the California Department of Justice’s California Police Shooting Investigation Team for Southern California. The Department of Justice investigates officer shootings under provisions of a bill signed into law last year.

Once the investigation has been completed, the results will be turned over to the California Department of Justice’s Special Prosecutions Section within the Criminal Law Division for independent review.

The incident also drew the attention of President Joe Biden, who offered his condolences to the people of Chile while on a phone call with Chilean president-elect Gabriel Boric Jan. 6.