California shooter kills 10 at dance club; motive unclear

MONTEREY PARK, Calif. (AP) — Authorities were searching for a motive for the gunman who killed 10 people at a Los Angeles-area ballroom dance club during Lunar New Year celebrations, killings that sent a wave of fear through Asian-American communities in the region and cast a shadow over festivities across the country.

The suspect was found Sunday, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a van where authorities say he fled after people thwarted his attempt at another shooting Saturday night.

The massacre was the nation’s fifth mass killing this month. It was also the deadliest attack since May 24, when 21 people were killed at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas..

Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna identified the man as 72-year-old Huu Can Tran and said no other suspects were at large. Luna said the motive remained unclear for the attack, which injured 10 people, seven of whom remained hospitalized. Speaking at a news conference Sunday night, the sheriff said he did not have their exact ages, but that all those killed appeared to be over 50.

The suspect was carrying what Luna described as a semi-automatic handgun with an extended magazine, and a second handgun was discovered in the van where Tran died.

Monterey Park Police Chief Scott Wiese said Sunday night that within three minutes of receiving the call, officers arrived at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park. There they found carnage inside and people trying to escape through all the doors.

“When they got into the parking lot it was chaos,” Wiese said.

About 20 to 30 minutes after the first attack, the gunman entered the Lai Lai Ballroom in the nearby city of Alhambra. But people wrestled the gun from him and witnesses said he fled in a white van, according to Luna.

The van was found in Torrance, another Asian-American community about 21 miles (34.5 km) from the other location.

After surrounding the vehicle for hours, police officers swarmed and entered it. A person’s body appeared to have fallen over the steering wheel and was later removed. Members of a SWAT team looked through the van’s contents before leaving.

The sheriff’s department previously released photos of an Asian man believed to be the suspect, apparently taken from a security camera.

Congresswoman Judy Chu said she still has questions about the attack, but hopes residents now feel safe.

“The community was in fear and thought they shouldn’t go to any events because there was an active shooter,” Chu said at Sunday’s news conference.

“What was the motive of this shooter?” she said. “Did he have a mental disorder? Was he a domestic abuser? How did he obtain these weapons and was it through legal means or not?”

Monterey Park is a city of about 60,000 people on the eastern edge of Los Angeles and is made up mostly of Asian immigrants from China or first-generation Asian Americans. The shooting happened in the heart of the city center where red lanterns decorated the streets for the Lunar New Year festivities. A police car was parked near a large banner proclaiming “Happy Year of the Rabbit!”

The celebration in Monterey Park is one of California’s largest. Two days of festivities, attended by as many as 100,000 people in recent years, were planned. But officials canceled Sunday’s events after the shooting.

Tony Lai, 35, of Monterey Park was stunned when he came out for his early morning walk to find out the noises he heard during the night were gunshots.

“I thought maybe it was fireworks. I thought maybe it had something to do with the Lunar New Year, he said. “And we don’t even get a lot of fireworks here. It is strange to see this. It is very safe here. We are in the middle of the city, but it is very safe.”

An Associated Press/USA Today database on mass killings in the United States shows that 2022 was one of the nation’s worst years with 42 such attacks — the second-highest number since the tracker was created in 2006. The database defines a mass killing as four people killed, not including the perpetrator.

California Governor Gavin Newsom visited Monterey Park on Sunday, meeting with victims and their families as well as local officials.

President Joe Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland were briefed on the situation, aides said. Biden said he and first lady Jill Biden were thinking of those killed and injured.

Star Ballroom Dance Studio’s website said it was hosting an event Saturday called “Star Night” from 20.00 to 23.30. The studio is a few blocks from City Hall on Monterey Park’s main street, Garvey Avenue, which is dotted with shopping centers. of small businesses that have signs in both English and Chinese. Cantonese and Mandarin are both widely spoken, Chinese holidays are celebrated and Chinese films are regularly shown in the city.

Wynn Liaw, 57, who lives about two blocks from the Monterey Park studio, said she was shocked that such a crime would happen, especially during the Lunar New Year celebrations.

“Chinese people, they consider Chinese New Year very, very special” — a time when “you don’t do anything that will bring bad luck all year,” she said.


AP reporters Andrew Dalton, Jae C. Hong and Eugene Garcia contributed. AP reporter Julie Watson contributed from San Diego.

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