The morning after a chaotic, heartbreaking Sunday spent responding to the shocking attack on a Monterey Park dance hall — the investigation ending with a suicide in a shopping center parking lot on the other side of the county — law enforcement and local leaders alike on Monday, Jan. 23, will strive to find the answers to the myriad questions left in the aftermath of the nation’s deadliest mass shooting since last year’s Uvalde, Texas, massacre.
A gunman killed 10 and injured another 10, some critically, inside a Monterey Park ballroom late Saturday, turning a festive night of celebrating the Lunar New Year into one of terror, and setting off a hunt for the suspect that stretched into the South Bay – which ultimately ended with the man shooting himself.
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The following day, initially meant to continue the new year festivities, suddenly became mournful as the 61,000 residents of Monterey Park – as well as the rest of Southern California – awoke to news of bloodshed in the normally sleepy town.
As the manhunt continued, experts discussed how the shooting could rekindle fears in the wider Asian American community that has struggled with a recent rise in hate crimes – even as the shooter’s motives remain unknown – while the proliferation of firearms and gun violence in America once again moved to the center of political debates.
The day ended, however, in something resembling bittersweet victory.
The suspect, Huu Can Tran, was dead – by his own hand. More death had been avoided, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna, when two community members in nearby Alhambra disarmed the man at a second dance studio.
And, multiple officials said, the community could now begin to heal.
“Feel safe. You are no longer in danger because the shooter is dead,” said U.S. Rep. Judy Chu, who represents the area and once served as Monterey Park mayor. “This community is resilient. What I see at this moment is that we are indeed resilient. We are stronger together.”
The downtown area of Monterey Park, a city east of Los Angeles with a population that’s about 65% Asian, enjoyed a joyous mood earlier Saturday as thousands converged to welcome the Year of the Rabbit.
But shortly after the city’s Lunar New Year event ended, chaos unfolded.
A man, who Luna later identified as Tran, 72, sprayed gunfire into the Star Ballroom Dance Studio, on West Garvey Avenue, which had been filled with folks continuing the Lunar New Year revelry.
Five men and five women were left dead. Details on the victims had not been released by Sunday evening.
Within minutes, Monterey Park police officers had converged on the scene, benefitting from the Police Department being close to the ballroom and still having folks working the site of the city celebration, said Chief Scott Wiese.
The officers, Wiese said during a Sunday morning press conference, saw people flood out of the dancehall.
But they did not find Tran.
Instead, he apparently made his way north to Alhambra.
The man, seen in surveillance footage wearing eyeglasses and what appeared to be a beanie, entered the Lai Lai Ballroom, about three miles away, Luna said Sunday evening.
But before bloodshed could begin there, Luna said during the day’s last press conference, two community members disarmed him.
The weapon found there, Luna said, was a semiautomatic pistol with an extended magazine – meaning it could hold more ammunition than normal.
That weapon, Luna said he believed, is not legal in California.
“I consider the two men to be heroes,” Luna said of those who stopped a second shooting from happening. “It could have been much worse.”
But when police arrived in Alhambra, Tran was once again gone.
By dawn, a full retinue of law enforcement agencies had begun investigating the mass shooting.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department ultimately took over the investigation.
At the Sunday morning press conference, details were relatively scant, though Luna did say there was a white “van of interest” and said detectives were keeping “an open mind” to any possible motives.
Those motives were still unknown, at least publicly, as Sunday ended.
Tran apparently switched out the van’s plates, Luna said, and traveled about 31 miles southwest across the county to Torrance, the South Bay’s largest city.
Torrance police officers, on the lookout, spotted the van near Sepulveda and Hawthorne boulevards, not far from the Del Amo shopping center.
The van pulled into a shopping center and officers left their patrol vehicles to approach it, Luna said.
And a single shot rang out.
The officers, Luna said, retreated and called for backup.
Two armored vehicles boxed in the van.
The area was blocked off with crime tape, and the area became a dramatic mise-en-scene, with LASD officials saying they feared the van could have explosives or chemicals.
A hazardous materials team and the bomb squad were called in. At one point, a sheriff’s helicopter – one of many circling the area – touched down in a nearby Amazon Go parking lot.
SWAT confirmed Tran was dead, Luna said.
He shot himself. The driver’s side window was pierced with a bullet hole.
Investigators recovered a handgun from the van, Luna said later Sunday. They also found multiple pieces of evidence that tied Tran to both the Monterey Park shooting and the interrupted one in Alhambra.
But the public would have to wait several hours, until a Sunday evening press conference in Monterey Park, to hear official word from Luna that the gunman was dead.
Across the county, meanwhile, Alhambra’s downtown – filled with scores of families, friends, local officials and vendors celebrating the Asian community’s biggest holiday – was similarly shut down.
Police and media members populated the area instead.
Crime tape circled the dance studio’s building, one of many in an area populated with strip malls.
Elected officials, including President Joe Biden — who decreed that flags be flown at half-staff on all government buildings until sunset on Thursday — and Gov. Gavin Newsom — who touched down in the city to meet with officials and residents — offered their support for Monterey Park. Clerics prayed for the city, including the Los Angeles region’s archbishop.
“My heart is broken for the victims, their families, and the people of my hometown Monterey Park who were impacted by the mass shooting that took place during a night of Lunar New Year celebrations,” said Rep. Judy Chu, the area’s congresswoman.
Asian American organizations also decried the shooting.
“Monterey Park should have had a night of joyful celebration of the Lunar New Year,” Newsom said on social media. “Instead, they were the victims of a horrific and heartless act of gun violence. Our hearts mourn as we learn more about the devastating acts of last night.”
Educators and administrators in four different school districts serving the city’s residents worked to offer help to students impacted by the shooting and their families. Local officials launched a resource center for residents not far from the shooting site.
Some Lunar New Year events planned elsewhere for Sunday were canceled, though others continued as planned.
The USC Pacific Asia Museum, for example, nixed its festival on Sunday, out of respect for the victims and to be cautious. The Tet Festival, in Orange County’s Little Saigon, went on as planned, as did a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Jose Gomez in Chinatown.
Other organizations, including Stop AAPI Hate, which collects data on rising Asian American hate crimes, issued a statement, declaring that mass shooting contributed to an enduring unease that has plagued the community in recent years.
“Our community has faced so much tragedy and trauma over the last several years,” the group said. “This tremendous act of violence, on one of the most important days of the year for many Asian Americans, at a place where Asian American families come to gather and celebrate, is sending shockwaves through our community.”
At Monterey Park City Hall, meanwhile, a memorial was set up for those looking for a place to collectively grieve.
The memorial started small, with only a smattering of balloons and flowers, but it was expected to grow. A community vigil is planned there Monday night.
A crisis center for families of victims and others was also set up at the Langley Senior Citizen Center. In the afternoon, there was a prayer circle outside.
Later Sunday night, police pulled down the crime-scene tape that had closed off the ballroom.
Kristina Hayes is familiar with the ballroom’s interior.
The building’s storefront exterior belies what’s inside, said Hayes, an instructor there since 2001. It has a large, proper ballroom, she said, with the “exquisite floors” having plenty of space on which dancers can whirl around.
Pedro Corado, an Inglewood resident, was the first to lay flowers and a candle outside the building, once the crime-scene tape was gone.
“It didn’t just hurt Monterey Park, it hurt LA,” Corado said. “You don’t want something like this to pass over without notice.”
Earlier Sunday evening, Luna – with a gaggle of other law enforcement and elected officials behind him – stepped to the lectern to reveal the identity of the shooter who hurt the community and his apparent suicide.
Yet the investigation continues — spanning the Southland: Law enforcement officials, for example, executed a search warrant around 8 p.m. at the senior community in Hemet, said Alan Reyes, a spokesperson with that city’s Police Department.
Tran lived there, he said.
What officials were looking for, though, wasn’t immediately known. And other questions also remain unanswered.
How, for one, was Tran connected to the dance studios – or was he? Why did he rain bullets inside a building meant to bring the community together, and during a celebration no less? How did he obtain his weapons?
Clarity, officials said, will hopefully arrive in the coming days.
But for now, there are other, more personal concerns, such as whether the critically injured will recover, how will the community support the victims’ families and how will residents feel safe again.
One resident who lives across the street from the senior center, for example, said the shooting has shattered his feeling of safety in his city.
“That’s not something I thought could ever happen in Monterey Park,” said Eric Ching. “But it was here, and it took the lives of 10 people and another 10 are in the hospital fighting for the right to live.”
Monterey Park Mayor Henry Lo broke down and cried when discussing the tragedy.
“I haven’t slept in 24 hours,” he said. “It’s overwhelming.”
And the Monterey Park community is grieving.
Staff writers Josh Cain, Ryan Carter, Yusra Farzan, Ruby Gonzalez, Emily Holshouser, Kristy Hutchings, Hunter Lee, Hannah Lykke, Brian Rokos, Kaitlynn Schallhorn, Linh Tat and Allyson Vergara contributed to this report.