A ‘paranoid’ gunman killed 11 in the Monterey Park mass shooting. What happened?

Monterey Park is reeling from a mass shooting that left 11 people dead and 10 others wounded - marking one of nearly 40 mass shootings in the US this year. Here’s what we know so far about the shooting, the suspect and the victims. Rachel Sharp and Graig Graziosi report

Wednesday 25 January 2023 16:45 GMT
Officers on the scene of the mass shooting in Monterey Park
Officers on the scene of the mass shooting in Monterey Park (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

It’s only 25 days into 2023 and the US has already been rocked by at least 39 mass shootings.

That’s more shootings where at least four victims were injured or killed than there has been days since the start of the new year.

In total, 2,667 Americans have died as a result of gun violence including 21 children and 95 teenagers, according to data collected by the Gun Violence Archive.

Now, among the latest communities to be torn apart by gun violence is Monterey Parka largely Asian-American community where thousands of residents had gathered this weekend to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

Celebrations quickly turned to tragedy when a 72-year-old gunman allegedly opened fire at a ballroom dance studio in the California community on Saturday night (21 January).

Eleven victims were killed while another nine were wounded in the attack.

Suspected gunman Huu Can Tran is believed to have planned to continue his shooting rampage after he travelled from the site of the massacre to a second dance club – where he was thankfully disarmed by a brave worker.

Hours later, Tran was found dead inside his white van in Torrance following a brief standoff with police. Officials said he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

While the motive for the shooting remains unclear, new details continue to emerge about the suspect and his connection to the club.

Here’s everything we know about the shooting so far:

The shooting

On Saturday night, approximately seven miles east of downtown Los Angeles, visitors gathered to celebrate the Lunar New Year. The two-day festival draws tens of thousands, making it one of the largest celebrations of its kind in the region, according to the paper.

Around 10.22pm, a man entered the dance club and began shooting. Police do not know if he was targeting individuals, firing indiscriminately, or both.

Seung Won Choi, the owner of a seafood restaurant across the street from the ballroom, told the LA Times that party attendees fled the building and ran into his business, warning him to close and lock his doors.

Map showing locations of Star Dance Studio, where gunman Huu Can Tran shot dead 10 people; the Lai Lai Ballroom, where he was disarmed by members of the public; and Torrance, where his van was stopped by police
Map showing locations of Star Dance Studio, where gunman Huu Can Tran shot dead 10 people; the Lai Lai Ballroom, where he was disarmed by members of the public; and Torrance, where his van was stopped by police (Datawrapper)

Police arrived at the scene and found that the partygoers were already fighting to escape the building.

"When officers arrived on scene, they observed numerous individuals, patrons … pouring out of the location, screaming," Monterey Park police chief Scott Wiese told reporters Sunday. "The officers made entry to the location and located additional victims."

Ten victims were pronounced dead at the scene and another 10 were taken to hospitals, where an additional victim died to bring the death toll to 11.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna initially said witnesses described the suspect as a male of Asian descent, between the ages of 30 and 50, though he noted during a Sunday press conference that descriptions were not consistent between all witnesses.

The second scene

Around 20 minutes after the first shooting, investigators believe Tran then travelled to a second dance studio in the neighbouring city of Alhambra.

There, a heroic worker managed to wrestle the semiautomatic assault pistol from the suspect as he attempted to carry out a second attack.

Surveillance footage captured the terrifying moment 26-year-old Brandon Tsay, a 26-year-old coder whose family runs the Lai Lai club, bravely wrestled the gun away from Tran.

Mr Tsay told the New York Times that he was in the office off the lobby watching the ballroom when he heard the front doors swing close and a noise that sounded like metal hitting metal.

Surveillance footage captures a brave patron stopping the gunman at Lai Lai Ballroom
Surveillance footage captures a brave patron stopping the gunman at Lai Lai Ballroom ( Lai Lai Ballroom)

At that moment, he said he turned around to see the suspect pointing a gun at him.

Mr Tsay described the suspect as “menacing” saying: “He was looking at me and looking around, not hiding that he was trying to do harm.” The two men got into a struggle before the 26-year-old managed to disarm the gunman.

Tran fled the scene – with no one at that second studio injured.

The standoff

After moving onto the Lai Lai club, Tran went on the run and a huge manhunt was launched to track him down.

It culminated around 12 hours later with a police standoff in Torrance, about 30 miles from Monterey Park.

Witnesses at the Alhambra incident had reported seeing a white van at the scene and officers spotted Tran driving the van around Torrance on Sunday morning.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said at a press conference on Sunday that, as police closed in, Tran drove into a parking lot and shot himself dead.

“When officers exited their patrol vehicle to contact the occupant, they heard one gunshot coming from within the van,” the sheriff said.

SWAT teams surrounded the vehicle before approaching the van.

Police surround the white van in Torrance
Police surround the white van in Torrance (EPA)

The armored vehicles were positioned directly behind and infront of the van to prevent the suspect from driving away from the scene. Later, a third BearCat was moved to block the driver’s side door of the van, where the window had been smashed out.

SWAT members then opened the passenger and side doors of the vans and found Tran dead inside from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, police said.

Evidence found inside the vehicle – including a handgun – allegedly ties the 72-year-old to the shooting.

The suspect

Authorities believe Tran acted alone and are not seeking anyone else in connection to the mass shooting. At 72 years old, Tran is the oldest mass shooter in more than five decades.

The motive for the massacre remains unclear.

However, acquaintances have revealed that Tran used to be a regular at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio and once complained that the instructors were saying “evil things” about him.

He also met his former wife at the studio, it has been revealed.

One friend, who knew Tran in the late 2000s and early 2010s when they both attended the studio, said that Tran was “hostile to a lot of people” at the club.

The friend, who did not want to be named, told CNN that the suspect often complained to him that he thought the dance instructors didn’t like him and said “evil things about him”.

At the time, Tran lived around a five-minute drive from the club and would visit it almost every night, he said.

The two friends hadn’t seen each other in years before Saturday’s shooting, he said.

Now, he said he is “totally shocked” to learn that he was allegedly responsible for the mass shooting as he voiced fears that some of his friends may be among the victims.

“I know lots of people, and if they go to Star studio, they frequent there,” he said.

Tran’s former wife, who also did not want to be named, told CNN that they first met at the Star Ballroom around two decades ago.

Authorities believe Huu Can Tran, 72, acted alone
Authorities believe Huu Can Tran, 72, acted alone (Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department)

At the time, Tran was running informal dance lessons at the club and offered to give her free lessons, she said.

The pair wed soon after. Tran’s former wife said that the accused mass shooter was never physically violent with her but that he did have a short temper, especially if she missed a step while dancing with him.

She told the network that she felt that Tran then lost interest in her and he filed for divorce in 2005.

It is not clear if Tran was still attending the dance studio in the run-up to the mass shooting.

Investigators are now looking into Tran’s criminal and mental health history for clues as to what led to Saturday’s massacre.

In the aftermath of the shooting, law enforcement said that it was “too early” to determine if it was racially motivated, but told reporters “we will look at every angle as far as whether it’s a hate crime or not”.

SWAT team reaches suspect white van involved in standoff connected to LA mass shooting

“Everything’s on the table,” Mr Luna said of the ongoing investigation during a press conference prior to tracking down the suspect on Sunday.

“But, who walks into a dance hall and guns down 20 people?”

Authorities later revealed that Tran visited the Hemet Police Department lobby twice this month – on 7 January and then again on 9 January.

During those visits, Tran claimed that his family in the Los Angeles area had tried to poison him some 10-20 years ago, and also made allegations of fraud and theft.

City supervisor Hilda Solis suggested that the shooting may have been the result of a hate crime as the victims were all “of AAPI descent”.

“We’re waiting to see what our law enforcement and FBI have to say,” she told ABC 7.

The victims

The wounded were taken to nearby hospitals in conditions ranging from stable to critical, according to the LA Times.

Five men and five women were among the victims found dead at the scene. They were all aged in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. The 11th victim who died at the hospital was also a woman.

On Monday (23 January), four of the victims were identified by the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office, while three others of those slain were named by people that knew them.

Mymy Nhan, a 65-year-old woman, Valentino Alvero, a 68-year-old man, Lilian Li, a 63-year-old woman, and Xiujuan Yu, a 57-year-old woman, were confirmed by authorities among the deceased.

Ming Wei Ma, 72, the male owner of the dance studio, was confirmed as dead by friends and relatives and later confirmed by the coroner.

Diana Tom, 70, was wounded during the shooting and later died from her injuries at an area hospital.

The remaining victims were named the next day, The Los Angeles Times reports.

Hong Jian, a 62-year-old woman; Muoi Ung, a 68-year-old woman; Yu Kao, a 72-year-old man; Wen Yu, 64; and Chia Yau, a 77-year-old man, all died at the scene.

CBS News reports that the family of Nancy Liu, 62, said she had been killed — it is unclear if she is known by another name.

The Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Los Angeles confirmed two of the victims were Taiwanese Americans, and the Chinese Consulate in the city said one of its citizens was among the dead. Mr Alvero was Filipino-American, according to the Philippine Consulate.

Many heartbroken friends and family members have since shared stories about their slain loved ones.

Ming Wei Ma was identified as one of the victims
Ming Wei Ma was identified as one of the victims (KCAL News)

The reaction

The second day of the Lunar New Year festivities was cancelled on Sunday, according to Monterey Park Police Chief Scott Weise.

“The festival that occurred Saturday also extended to Sunday. Out of an abundance of caution and reverence for the victims, we are canceling the event that’s going to happen later today,” he told reporters.

Los Angeles city controller Kenneth Mejia, the first Asian American to hold citywide office in LA, issued a statement in response to the shooting.

“Our hearts go out to those who lost loved ones tonight in our neighbouring city, Monterey Park, where a mass shooting just occurred,” he said.

Monterey Park’s demographic data shows that just over 65 per cent of its population identifies as Asian, with Hispanic identifying people making up the next largest group at 28 per cent.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Sunday morning that Joe Biden had been briefed on the shooting and noted that FBI agents had been dispatched to investigate the attack.

Governor Gavin Newsom called the attack a “heartless act of gun violence”.

"Monterey Park should have had a night of joyful celebration of the Lunar New Year. 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. We are monitoring the situation closely,” he said.

On Sunday, he visited Monterey Park and issued a proclamation declaring Lunar New Year and ordering flags across all state buildings to be flown at half-staff in honor of the victims.

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