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Motive sought for California mass shooting that left 10 dead during Lunar New Year celebrations

Monterey Park, Calif. — Authorities searched for a motive for the gunman who killed 10 people at a Los Angeles-area ballroom dance club during Lunar New Year celebrations, slayings that sent a wave of fear through Asian American communities in the region and cast a shadow over festivities nationwide.

Authorities said the suspect was found dead Sunday of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a van in which he fled after people thwarted his attempt at a second 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 in 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 Tran’s motive remained unclear. 

The attack also wounded 10 people, seven of whom were still hospitalized.

None of the victims had been officially identified as of Sunday night.  

Speaking at a Sunday evening news conference, the sheriff said he didn’t have the exact ages of the people killed but that all appeared to be over 50.

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

Monterey Park Police Chief Scott Wiese said Sunday evening 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 flee through all the doors.

“When they came into the parking lot it, (it) was chaos,” Wiese said.

Mass shooting in Monterey Park
A Monterey Park police officer stands outside the Star Dance Studio, where a gunman killed 10 people and injured another 10 in Monterey Park, Calif. on Jan. 22, 2023. The shooting happened late the night before.

Philip Cheung for The Washington Post via Getty Images

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

“He walked in there with a firearm and some individuals wrestled the firearm away from him, and that individual took off,” Luna said earlier Sunday.  

The van was found in the city of Torrance, another community that’s home to many Asian Americans, about 22 miles from the second location.

Luna said earlier Sunday that law enforcement was dealing with a “barricaded suspect situation” in Torrance. Officers pulled over a white van at 10:20 a.m. local time Sunday, Luna said. The van then pulled into a shopping center parking lot and police heard a single gunshot from inside the vehicle, according to Luna. Officers wearing tactical gear and armor, approached the van at 12:52 p.m. and found the suspect dead.

The dramatic scene involving the van was captured by news helicopters, with multiple armored vehicles positioned in front of, to the side of and behind the van, with officers in fatigues and body armor at the rear of one of the police vehicles. After surrounding the vehicle for hours, law enforcement officials swarmed and entered it. A person’s body appeared to be slumped over the wheel and was later removed. Members of a SWAT team looked through the van’s contents before walking away.

Law enforcement personnel are seen outside the site in Torrance, California, where the alleged suspect in the mass shooting in which 10 people were killed in Monterey Park, California, was believed to be holed up on Jan. 22, 2023.

ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

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

Mass shooting in Monterey Park
Monterey Park, Calif. police cars block the intersection near the Star Dance Studio (not pictured) where a gunman killed 10 people and wounded 10 more on Jan. 22, 2023. The shooting happened late the night before.

Philip Cheung for The Washington Post via Getty Images

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

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

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

The massacre sent shock waves through Asian American communities around the nation, prompting police from San Francisco to New York to step up patrols at Lunar New Year celebrations in their own cities.

Asian American advocacy groups said it was another blow after years of high-profile anti-Asian violence around the country. “Regardless of what the intent was, the impact on our community has been really profound,” said Connie Chung Joe, CEO of the nonprofit Asian Americans Advancing Justice Southern California.

Ten Killed In Mass Shooting At Lunar New Year Festival In California
Community members during a prayer vigil at Monterey Park City Hall for victims of a deadly shooting on Jan. 22, 2023. Ten people were killed and 10 more wounded at a dance studio in Monterey Park near a Lunar New Year celebration on Saturday night.

ERIC THAYER / Getty Images

Federal agents from the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were on the scene assisting local police, and White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said President Biden had been updated on the shooting.

“Jill and I are thinking of those killed and injured in last night’s deadly mass shooting in Monterey Par,” Mr. Biden said in a statement Sunday night. “While there is still much we don’t know about the motive in this senseless attack, we do know that many families are grieving tonight, or praying that their loved one will recover from their wounds.”

Mr. Biden ordered flags to be flown at half-staff until sunset on Thursday.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Instagram that he visited Monterey Park Sunday.

“The strength of this community is incredible. No other country in the world is terrorized by this constant stream of gun violence. We need real gun reform at a national level,” Newsom said.

According to CNN, Tran’s ex-wife said she met Tran about 20 years ago at the Star Ballroom and that “while Tran was never violent to her … he could be quick to anger.” CNN also reported that ” a second long-time acquaintance of Tran’s also remembered him as a frequent presence at the dance studio.”

Witnesses have identified one of those killed in as the owner of the Star Dance Studio, CBS Los Angeles reports.

The witnesses aid Ming Wei Ma was killed in a final act of selflessness. 

“According to (an online) chat, he was the first to rush the shooter,” said Eric Chen, a friend of Ming. “He was just caring, and other first, people first kind of person. … “(It is) heartbreaking and it’s unthinkable that it would happen.”

Local resident Wong Wei told the Los Angeles Times his friend had been at the dance studio, and she had been in the bathroom when the shooting erupted. When she emerged from the bathroom, she saw a gunman and three bodies — two women and one person who he said was the boss of the studio.

Ten Killed In Mass Shooting At Lunar New Year Festival In California
A makeshift memorial is seen at Monterey Park City Hall for victims of a deadly shooting on Jan. 22, 2023 in Monterey Park, California. Ten people were killed and 10 more wounded at a dance studio in Monterey Park near a Lunar New Year celebration on Saturday night.

/ Getty Images

The friend then fled to his home at around 11 p.m., Wei said, adding that his friends told him that the shooter appeared to fire indiscriminately with a long gun. “They don’t know why, so they run,” he told the newspaper.

Luna said Sunday afternoon that a victim center had been set up and urged anyone to go who suspected a family member had been at the dance hall.    

A GoFundMe account has been set up for “the many individuals who are now suffering from this senseless violence.”

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