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Armed woman fatally shot by sheriff's deputies on New Year's Eve was mother of five

Until New Year’s Eve, a woman had not been killed by a law enforcement officer in Los Angeles County since March 2013. And those who knew Mayra Cornejo never expected what happened to the mother of five in Compton that night.

Mayra Cornejo, 34, was known for taking the neighborhood kids on outings to Chuck E. Cheese’s or the beach. She was also known for her generosity, sometimes taking her children to downtown Los Angeles to feed the homeless.

“She wanted to help out everyone,” said her sister, Violet Cornejo.

On Dec. 31, Mayra Cornejo was involved in an altercation that didn’t fit with the woman remembered by family members as outgoing and fun.

About 4:30 p.m., she arrived at a gas station with a gun, furious with her estranged husband. The weapon, which was registered to her husband, was usually kept in their Lynwood home, said Sheriff’s Lt. Eddie Hernandez.

Cornejo’s husband had recently been released from jail, and she found him near a pay phone. Cornejo allegedly fired once at the man. The bullet grazed his shirt.

He took the weapon from her and placed it on a nearby counter, but authorities said Cornejo grabbed the gun again.

When deputies arrived, Cornejo and the man were standing 2 to 3 feet from each other. Deputies yelled for Cornejo to drop the weapon, and she refused, Hernandez said.

Deputies at the scene said that Cornejo looked as though she was trying to fire the gun. Fearing for the man’s safety, they opened fire on Cornejo, who died at the scene.

Hernandez said that authorities are looking into Cornejo’s husband’s background and whether there was a history of domestic violence.

Hernandez said officer-involved shootings involving women are rare.

“The general public looks at this and says, ‘Wow, it’s a female,’” he said.

He said that the deputies involved have been emotionally affected.

“I think deputies react in the way that they’re trained,” he said. “It’s something that they have to deal with afterward.”

The last time a woman was killed by a law enforcement officer in L.A. County was in March 2013 in Pomona.

Since 2000, 20 women have been killed by police or sheriff’s deputies in the county, according to information released by the coroner’s office. The majority of the incidents involved women with weapons, such as knives, guns or hammers. Over that same period, more than 580 men were killed by law enforcement officials.

On Friday, Mayra Cornejo’s family continued a nightly vigil at the spot where she was shot, across the street from the Compton courthouse.

Bouquets surrounded candles and a box of donations for the woman’s burial. A cardboard sign read “Justice para Mayra.”

Violet Cornejo walked to her truck and grabbed recent photos of Mayra at a quinceañera celebration. Mayra, in a teal dress, posed for photos with her family and danced with her hands in the air.

“She was so happy that day,” Violet Cornejo said.

Her family still has questions about what happened that afternoon. Her sister wonders why there weren’t more negotiations during the incident at the gas station or why multiple shots were fired. She heard from people who said that they saw the confrontation and that her sister wasn’t holding the gun.

“We didn’t find out anything until 2 to 3 a.m.,” she said.

And the family is reliving a particular kind of grief. Mayra Cornejo’s brother died in police custody several years ago. In February 2007, Mauricio Paris Cornejo, 31, died after an altercation with LAPD officers in Boyle Heights.

A jury in 2012 awarded the man’s children $3.2 million in a wrongful-death lawsuit.

Mayra Cornejo’s 4-year-old daughter keeps saying that her mother took a rocket ship to the moon, Violet Cornejo said.

“How do we explain to her,” she asked, “that she’s not in the moon?”

-- Nicole Santa Cruz

Photo:  A candle light vigil was held Friday evening for Mayra Cornejo, shown in the portrait at right, who was shot and killed by Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputies after refusing to put down a weapon on New Year's eve. A shrine to her has been erected outside a gas station convenience store on Compton Boulevard where the shooting took place. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez, Los Angeles Times

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