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War of words escalates in deadly L.A. shooting

Even as the Los Angeles County coroner found the source of the bullet that killed a 19-month-old child during a shootout that left her gun-wielding father dead, a war of words has ensued, with relatives and the police at odds.
Lorena Lopez weeps outside her home Tuesday in Los Angeles. Lopez is the mother of Susie Pena, a 19-month-old toddler mistakenly shot to death Sunday by Los Angeles police during a standoff with her father, Jose Pena.Damian Dovarganes / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A toddler whose father held her as a shield during a gun battle with police died of a single gunshot fired from a police officer’s rifle, authorities said Wednesday.

Los Angeles County coroner’s spokesman Craig Harvey released the autopsy reports of 19-month-old Suzie Pena and her father Jose Pena, 34, who were both killed Sunday in the hours-long shootout at Pena’s auto repair business.

The girl died from a single gunshot wound to the head, and her father died of multiple gunshot wounds, the reports said.

A toxicological examination to determine whether Pena had drugs or alcohol in his system will take several weeks, Harvey said.

“Our hearts, prayers, thoughts go out to the family, particularly the mother,” Police Chief William Bratton said at a news conference Wednesday.

Although Bratton has adamantly maintained that Pena was responsible for his and his daughter’s deaths, he said the realization that it was a police officer who actually shot the girl was hard to take.

“Believe me, as chief of police, and for the officers involved, it is very tough to deal with that,” Bratton said.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said there will be a community meeting on Friday and urged people to reserve judgment until the investigation is completed.

‘Terrible night’
“I am asking for the public’s patience,” he said. “It was a terrible night that ended in a terrible tragedy for this city.”

Ultimately, the police chief said, he expects an investigation now under way will clear all of the officers involved in the gun battle.

“In the 38-year history of SWAT, I believe this is the first instance in which an innocent life in a hostage situation was taken by them,” Bratton said. “That situation is compounded by the age of this young child.”

The two were killed Sunday evening after a nearly three-hour standoff in which Pena exchanged gunfire with officers three separate times.

One officer was wounded in the shoulder during the third and final exchange between SWAT officers and Pena. Officer Daniel Sanchez, 39, has been released from a hospital and was recovering at home, police said.

Police said Pena told them during the standoff that he was not going to go to jail and shot at the officers repeatedly. Pena’s 17-year-old stepdaughter, who escaped during the shootout, told police Pena had threatened to kill his toddler daughter. Earlier in the day, Pena’s wife had called 911 to report that he had threatened her life.

Pena’s brother complained Tuesday about the police handling of the standoff.

“It’s been cruel what’s happened to my brother,” German Pena said. “They didn’t have any patience, none at all, knowing that my niece was with him, that he was a father. They should have acted with more patience.”