One day after 14-year-old Valentina Orellana-Peralta died in her mother’s arms following a fatal police shooting inside a Burlington store in Los Angeles, her parents received a letter from Valentina’s school congratulating her for showing dedication and commitment in passing all of her ninth grade classes.
Juan Pablo Orellana Larenas, Valentina’s father, recalled the bittersweet moment during his daughter’s funeral Monday in the City of Refuge Church in Gardena, near Los Angeles.
“Valentina Orellana-Peralta had many dreams and aspirations like any other 14-year-old girl,” such as becoming a robotics engineer, Orellana Larenas said in Spanish. “At her school here in Los Angeles, she had enrolled in a class that would have brought her closer to that dream.”
Valentina’s mother, Soledad Peralta, said she couldn’t be prouder of how her daughter overcame language barriers after coming to the U.S. from Chile and worked hard to study math and physics, classes that often challenged her.
Valentina’s body was displayed in a pink dress inside a flower-draped casket next to large photos of her. Both parents remembered her as “an exemplary daughter” who loved sports, cared about social justice and advocated for animal rights.
“We will never get over the pain and sadness of not having her by our side anymore,” Orellana Larenas said. “They have destroyed us as a family and as parents. We sincerely hope that no parent in this world lives this sadness and pain. It is devastating.”
Valentina was killed Dec. 23 at a Burlington store in the San Fernando Valley’s North Hollywood neighborhood when Los Angeles police went in looking for a suspect following 911 calls about a gun.
A bullet fired at the suspect, identified by the Los Angeles County medical examiner-coroner as Daniel Elena Lopez, 24, hit Valentina while she and her mother were inside a dressing room.
Valentina’s body was found after the shooting during a search for additional suspects. Los Angeles police previously said in a statement that officers did not know the dressing room was occupied.
“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,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel R. Moore said in the statement, promising a thorough investigation of the incident.
In a news conference two weeks ago, Peralta said she and her daughter heard the police commotion while Valentina was trying on dresses, prompting the girl to lock the dressing room door until it was safe to come out.
“We sat down and hugged and started praying,” Peralta said in Spanish through her lawyer Erika Contreras. “When something impacted my daughter Valentina, it threw us on the floor, and she died in my arms, and there was nothing I could do.”
Both Lopez and Valentina died from a “gunshot wound to the chest,” according to an investigator with the medical examiner’s office.
“As parents, we ask ourselves if it was fair for our daughter Valentina to die in this way? It’s an answer we will never have,” Orellana Larenas said during her funeral. “What gives us courage to keep on living is that ‘Justice for Valentina’ will be the flag of our struggle.”
The Los Angeles police officer who fired the round that killed Valentina is on leave. A police union representative defended the officer last week, saying he was following active shooter protocols.
“Valentina is innocent!” Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Valentina’s family, said as he led mourners in a chant during Monday’s service.
“We pray for peace and justice for this innocent blood spilled,” he said.
The eulogy was delivered by civil rights activist and MSNBC host the Rev. Al Sharpton, who recalled coming to Los Angeles three decades ago to protest the beating of Rodney King by police.
“How long will it take for you to get it right?” Sharpton asked, addressing Los Angeles police. He called the shooting reckless and said the girl’s death is “not only a tragedy but a travesty.”
“This could’ve been my daughter. This could’ve been your daughter,” Sharpton said.
The shooting is the subject of an internal Los Angeles Police Department investigation. The California Department of Justice is also investigating.
Following several days of mourning, Peralta said she was feeling enough peacefulness to be able to speak in front of crowds of family members and friends who came to say one last goodbye to Valentina.
“One of my nieces told me to not cry so much today so that my daughter’s angel wings don’t get so wet that she can’t fly into heaven,” the mother said in Spanish.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com.
Nicole Acevedo is a staff reporter at NBC News Digital where she reports, writes and produces content for NBC Latino and NBCNews.com.
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