LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Los Angeles police officers shot and killed both a 14-year-old girl and an assault suspect when they opened fire inside a Burlington store in North Hollywood Thursday morning, authorities said.
Los Angeles police believe the girl was struck by a stray bullet that passed through a dressing room wall. The 14-year-old was identified by the L.A. County Coroner’s Office Friday as Valentina Orellana-Peralta. The male suspect’s name has not yet been released.
A woman who was assaulted by the suspect was taken to the hospital with moderate to serious injuries, police said.
It’s unclear why police opened fire. The suspect is not believed to have been armed with a gun.
The situation unfolded when officers were sent to the Burlington store at Laurel Canyon and Victory boulevards at around 11:45 a.m. in response to a 911 call from a person who reported hearing arguing inside the store and shots fired, according to police.
As officers were responding to the call, police received additional reports of a possible active shooter, according to LAPD Capt. Stacy Spell.
“As the officers were responding, they arrived at this location and began a search, looking for a suspect,” 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.”
The suspect was fatally shot, police said. 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.”
It was initially unclear if the teenage girl’s parents were in the store at the time, and whether she was hiding in the dressing room when she was killed by the stray bullet. An LAPD source disclosed to the Los Angeles Times that the victim’s mother was in the dressing room with her as her daughter tried on dresses for her quinceaneras.
A woman who was being assaulted by the suspect when officers arrived was taken to a hospital in unknown condition. She was seen in video footage from the scene being loaded into an ambulance, awake but bloodied.
Choi said it was unclear if the suspect was armed.
“We did not find a gun,” Choi 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.”
He said officers did find a “steel or metal cable lock, a very heavy lock,” near the suspect that may have been used in the assault.
An employee, who did not want to be identified, told CBSLA that she had just started working at Burlington a week earlier. She said she saw the suspect attack his first victim.
“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.”
The fatal shooting happened just two days before Christmas. Worried relatives lined up outside the store waiting for word on those inside.
“We are at the very preliminary part of this investigation,” Spell said. “There is still surveillance video to look at, witnesses to talk to, and we are looking at body worn video.”
Grieving family members converged on the store looking for answers.
“These are tragic and unfortunate sequence of events,” Choi said.
Choi said the LAPD Force Investigation Division and L.A. County Inspector General’s Office were both on the scene investigating. According to Choi, investigators had not yet reviewed the store’s security camera footage or video from the officers’ body-worn cameras.
The California Department of Justice Police Shooting Investigation Team for Southern California is also investigating the incident.
Burlington released a statement in response to the tragic shooting.
“At Burlington, our hearts are heavy as a result of the tragic incident that occurred today at our North Hollywood, CA store. Our top priority is always the safety and well-being of our customers and associates. This is an ongoing investigation, and we are supporting authorities.”
LAPD Police Chief Michel Moore, who was out of town at the time of the shooting, also issued a statement on the incident:
“This chaotic incident resulting in the death of an innocent child is tragic and devastating for everyone involved. 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. I have directed the release of the critical incident video by Monday, December 27th, which will include the 9-1-1 calls, radio transmissions, body worn video and any CCTV and other evidence gathered at this preliminary stage.”
(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report. City News Service contributed to this report.)