A 14-year-old girl in a dressing room was struck and killed by a stray bullet fired by police in a violent and chaotic confrontation Thursday at a Burlington store in North Hollywood.
Police who responded to a report of an assault at the business opened fire in the store crowded with holiday shoppers when they encountered the assault suspect attacking another person.
The girl, identified by the LA County Coroner’s office as Valentina Orellana-Peralta, was struck by a round that police said passed through a dressing room wall before striking her.
Her mother was with her in the dressing room when the police fire hit her. The family had only recently moved to the U.S. from Chile.
The assault suspect also was shot and killed.
LAPD Chief Michel Moore vowed in a statement Thursday night to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the circumstances that led up to the tragedy.
“This chaotic incident resulting in the death of an innocent child is tragic and devastating for everyone involved,” he 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.”
Another woman was hospitalized. Details about her condition were not immediately available. Los Angeles police Capt. Stacy Spell, who spoke at a news conference, said the injured woman was the victim in the initial assault report that brought officers to the store.
The identities of the deceased individuals were not immediately available.
Officers were sent to the Burlington store, formerly known as Burlington Coat Factory, at Laurel Canyon and Victory boulevards about 11:45 a.m. after receiving a 911 call from a person who reported hearing arguing inside the store and shots fired, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. On the way there, they received a second call about a shooting and people taking cover inside the store.
Moore on Friday revealed some new details about what transpired inside the store, busy with holiday shoppers.
Before the rampage, the suspected assailant had brought a bicycle inside the store and up the escalator to the second floor, where store personnel tried to intervene.
It was at this point that he began rampaging, Moore said, smashing the front door.
Calls to 911 reported shots fired, and witnesses said a man began swinging some kind of a chain and attacking customers inside the store. It was not immediately clear whether the man also had a gun.
Police located the man assaulting another person in the store, police said. Police opened fire and the attacker was struck and killed.
It appears at least one of those rounds passed through a wall and struck the 14-year-old girl in the dressing room behind the suspect, police said. Authorities said officers had no way of seeing into the dressing room and did not realize the girl was inside when they opened fire.
Details about the condition of the victim being attacked were not immediately available. Police did not say whether that person was struck by officers’ gunfire.
It was not clear how many officers opened fire or how many rounds were fired.
LAPD Assistant Chief Dominic Choi said that during a subsequent search, police found a hole in a stretch of drywall that was in front of the officer or officers who opened fire at the suspect.
“We went behind it (the wall), and it turned out to be a dressing room up there,” Choi said. “We were able to locate a 14-year-old female who was found deceased in that dressing room.”
Asked if the girl was shot by police, Choi said, “Preliminarily, we believe that round was an officer’s round.”
Choi said it was unclear whether the assailant was armed.
“We did not find a gun,” he said. “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.”
Officers found a steel or metal cable lock near the assailant that may have been used in the assault, Choi said.
Imelda Garcia said her sister works in the store and was on break when she heard gunshots and everyone started running. Garcia said she spoke to her sister on the phone and that she’s OK but sounded “really nervous.”
Police escorted people out of the store nearly two hours after the incident. Video showed firefighter-paramedics pushing one person on a stretcher out of the store.
Moore said it did not appear that the officer who fired “would have known that there was anyone behind there or that he was looking at anyone other than the suspect and a wall,” but said every aspect of what occurred and why would be analyzed by LAPD investigators.
The LAPD Family Liaison is working closely with the Mayor’s Crisis Response Team and Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez to provide assistance to Valentina’s family, a department official said.
The department’s Force Investigation Division and Inspector General’s Office were both on the scene investigating.
The California Department of Justice’s California Police Shooting Investigation Team for Southern California deployed to the shooting scene, following notification by local authorities, under provisions of a bill signed into law last year by Gov. Gavin Newsom, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced.
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.
City News Service contributed to this report.
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