Monterey Park remained in a state of mourning Monday following the weekend shooting massacre at a dance studio that left 10 people dead and 10 others wounded, while investigators and the community searched for answers about what prompted the rampage.
The gunman, identified by Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna as 72-year-old Huu Can Tran, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound inside a white van that was stopped by Torrance police Sunday afternoon. A handgun was recovered from the van, along with other potential evidence linking him to the Saturday night killings at the Star Dance Studio, Luna said.
On Monday morning, the Los Angeles County coroner’s office identified two of the women killed as My Nhan, 65, and Lilan Li, 63.
The names of the other eight fatally wounded victims were withheld, pending notification of their relatives. According to the coroner’s office, they were: a woman in her 50s, two women in their 60s, two men in their 60s, and three men in their 70s.
Friends and witnesses said one of the people who died in the gunfire was a well-known dance instructor and owner at Star Dance Studio, Ming Wei Ma, believed to be in his 60s.
But the mystery facing the community and detectives was motive, and what drove Tran to open fire inside the dance studio after a day of celebration in Monterey Park for the Lunar New Year.
“That is something that investigators were trying to learn,” Luna said Sunday evening. “We want to know what the heck happened here.”
There were some reports, citing law enforcement sources, that the man had been looking for his wife. Los Angeles Magazine reported that sources were increasingly leaning toward the idea of domestic violence.
Chester Chong, chairman of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles told ABC7 he believed the shooting was a domestic violence incident.
“Sometimes, the wife go (to the dance studio) and the husband does not go,” Chong said. “That’s why he’s so upset, and because we have so many guns, it’s too easy to bring a gun over there to kill people. It’s horrible, it’s very sad.”
“This is not a hate crime, this is not,” Chong said. “This case is a personal case.”
A neighbor of Tran, however, said the gunman lived alone in a senior community in Hemet, in Riverside County.
“Tran was just a nice guy,” neighbor Pat Roth told Inland News Monday. “I mean, I’d see him riding his little, small motorcycle in and out, once in a while in his van. He’d stop to pet your dog, and everybody around here just thought he was just some quiet, little guy. The people I’ve talked to are just stunned that he was involved in this. Pretty much lived alone, and I guess he taught dance or something, ballroom dance.”
Luna said Sunday evening that of the 10 victims who were taken to hospitals from the shooting scene, seven were still being treated. He described the victims, living and dead, as “in their 50s, 60s and beyond.”
In an attempt to reassure the frightened community, Luna said, “The suspect responsible for this tragedy is no longer a threat.”
The mass shooting occurred at 10:22 p.m. Saturday at Star Dance Studio, in the 100 block of West Garvey Avenue, Homicide Bureau Capt. Andrew Meyer of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said. Ten people were pronounced dead at the scene.
Luna described the weapon used as a “magazine-fed semi-automatic assault pistol.”
About 17 minutes after the Monterey Park attack, Tran entered the Lai Lai Ballroom & Studio in the 100 block of South Garfield Avenue in neighboring Alhambra.
Luna speculated that Tran was going to try to kill more people, but an employee at the studio confronted Tran and wrestled away his gun, prompting him to flee.
Luna told the New York Times the pistol used in the shooting was probably not legal to own in California. He said the license plates on the van Tran was driving were not legal, and were probably stolen.
On Sunday, Torrance police located a white van matching the suspect vehicle near Sepulveda and Hawthorne boulevards and attempted a traffic stop. The van entered a strip mall parking lot near Del Amo Fashion Center. When officers approached, they heard a single gunshot fired from within the vehicle.
Police then maneuvered two “BearCat” SWAT vehicles on each end of the van, butting up against it, while several police vehicles parked nearby by for additional support.
All lanes at the intersection of Hawthorne and Sepulveda were closed for the police investigation.
A sheriff’s department helicopter landed on Hawthorne Boulevard and a bomb squad truck was sent to the strip mall, which contains a Tokyo Central outlet and a Daiso store.
The manhunt drew assistance from the FBI, the ATF, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and a host of local law enforcement agencies.
Authorities made entry into the van shortly before 1 p.m. and found a man slumped in the driver’s seat, dead from a gunshot wound. Luna said there was no initial evidence of any law enforcement official firing a weapon. He said that driver in the van was Tran.
The attack coincided with a large celebration gathered nearby for the Lunar New Year. The city of Monterey Park canceled Sunday’s planned second day of the two-day celebration, but other holiday events were still planned throughout Southern California.
Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore said Sunday his agency “added patrols across our Asian communities today and will meet with any organizers hosting New Year celebrations.”
The Long Beach Police Department also said its officers increased patrols Sunday.
On Sunday, President Joe Biden issued a proclamation, stating:
“As a mark of respect for the victims of the senseless acts of violence perpetrated on January 21, 2023, in Monterey Park, California, by the authority vested in me as President of the United States by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, I hereby order that the flag of the United States shall be flown at half-staff at the White House and upon all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations, and on all naval vessels of the Federal Government in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its Territories and possessions until sunset, January 26, 2023. I also direct that the flag shall be flown at half-staff for the same length of time at all United States embassies, legations, consular offices, and other facilities abroad, including all military facilities and naval vessels and stations.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted that he spent time Sunday in Monterey Park meeting with leaders and people impacted by the tragedy.
“The strength of this community is incredible,” Newsom said. “No other country in the world is terrorized by this constant stream of gun violence. We need real gun reform at a national level.”
School districts in the Monterey Park area made plans for Monday to deal with fallout from the attack. Alhambra Unified School District schools will have a no pupil day Monday, according to its website.
The Los Angeles Unified School District said on its website it will offer mental health support and keep additional police patrols at Robert Hill Lane Elementary School in Monterey Park.
The Montebello Unified School District announced it would have additional police patrols at all schools bordering the Monterey Park and Alhambra areas and that it had mental health professionals ready to support students, families and staff as needed.
Saturday’s mass shooting included the most victims in Los Angeles County since 2008, when a disgruntled ex-husband killed 10 people, including himself, in Covina. It is the deadliest shooting in the U.S. since the massacre in Uvalde, Texas in May.
Anyone with further information about the shooting was asked to call sheriff’s homicide detectives at 323-890-5500 or leave anonymous tips on the Crime Stoppers line at 800-222-8477.