It’s been a week since a day of celebration turned to a nightmare, when a gunman entered a festive and popular Monterey Park dance studio and opened fire, killing 11 and wounding nine others.
Since that moment, 10:20 p.m., Jan. 21, a community — already close-knit, quiet and resilient — has absorbed the eyes of the world as it mourns its dead. Amid a week of tears, the world has come to know the victims — people who found a happy place on a beloved San Gabriel Valley dance floor.
And as their smiles are etched into collective memory, investigators have poured over a gunman’s life, searching for an elusive motive for his rampage, which they’ve traced back to a Riverside County home, where he appears to have quietly built his arsenal.
It’s been a week of chaos, questions and some answers, vigils, resiliency, and hope that some day this shaken community will find its way back from tragedy.
Here’s what we know — and don’t know — so far:
According to investigators, around 10:20 p.m. Saturday night, 72-year-old Huu Can Tran, a resident of Hemet, walked into the Star Ballroom Dance Studio, a popular ballroom dance spot in Monterey Park. Armed with a modified semi-automatic assault gun, he pulled the trigger, firing 42 rounds. The hall had been been packed with dancers, many described as older, who were enjoying the dancing that evening. By then, Monterey Park had been full of celebration, drawing thousands to a city celebrating the Lunar New Year.
Tran’s rampage would ultimately leave 11 dead. From Star Ballroom Dance, about 17 minutes later, Tran showed up at Lai Lai Ballroom & Studio in Alhambra, where police believe he was intending to kill others where the business was hosting a dance party. If not for the actions of a worker there Brandon Tsay, 26, who disarmed Tran. He would disarm Tran, kicking him out.
Questions have been raised over aspects of the police response. Monterey Park police descended on the scene within minutes, quickly secured the scene so that firefighters could get in and treat victims, said Monterey Park Police Chief Scott Wiese said.
But scrutiny emerged over the five hours it took for authorities to alert the public that a gunman was on the loose.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna on Monday said his department was “strategic” in its decision to release information but that he would review what happened.
Tsay told reporters that after disarming the gunman, he then left in his van and Tsay called the police. Luna said Tran appeared to have stashed a motorcycle registered to him near the Monterey Park studio — an alternate vehicle in which to get away.
But it would be the following day, Sunday, Jan. 22, when investigators would find Tran dead from a self-inflicted gun shot wound inside a white van in a parking lot in Torrance.
Tran was heavily armed.
The weapon used in the massacre, and which Tsay wrestled from Tran, was described by Luna as a Cobray M-11/9 — a semi-automatic pistol known as a Mac 10. It was not registered in the state of California, but purchased by Tran on Feb. 9, 1999 in Monterey Park.
Luna said the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was working to trace the weapon and its purchase. Luna said previously that Tran had been arrested in 1990 for unlawful possession of a firearm.
Tran legally owned two other weapons, Luna said. One was a Norinco 7.62x25mm pistol — with which Tran killed himself.
The other weapon was a Savage Arms .308-caliber bolt-action rifle that was seized during a search of Tran’s Hemet home, in a mobile home park in the 5000 block of W. Florida Ave., Sunday night, Luna said.
It was during that search investigators found ammunition and materials that authorities believe enabled the manufacturing of homemade firearm suppressors.
Luna said late Wednesday there is no known connection between the gunman and any of the victims.
He noted that Tran was unmarried and that investigators had not found any romantic ties to any of the victims, adding that Tran had not been to the dance studio for at least five years.
Tran had gone to the Hemet police two weeks prior and said his family had tried to poison him some 10 to 20 years ago, authorities said Monday. Tran stated he would return to the station with documentation regarding his allegations but never returned, authorities said.
It was a week of remembering the lives lost.
They ranged in age from their 50s to their 70s. The hub is known as a place where many students of Chinese descent came together to dance.
Those identified by the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner are:
My My Nhan, 65, whoLilan Li, 63Xiujuan Yu, 57Muoi Dai Ung, 67Hongying Jian, 62Yu-Lun Kao, 72Chia Ling Yau, 76Valentino Marcos Alvero, 68Wen-Tau Yu, 64Ming Wei Ma, 72Diana Man Ling Tom, 70
The holiday festivals
All of this has unfolded amid what was to be a celebratory time, reveling in the glow of the Lunar New Year.
Many celebrations will continue, but in the shadow of a massacre they will take on a meaning: A source of solace and healing.
Events will take place across Southern California this weekend, from downtown Los Angeles to Costa Mesa, from Riverside to Alhambra.
There will be moments of silence for the victims and there will also be increased security.
They will culminate on Sunday with an event in Alhambra that will honor Tsay, who President Joe Biden touted as a hero this week.
Tsay, who has been praised for stopping the gunman from killing more people at the Lai Lai Ballroom & Studio – which Tsay’s family operates – will receive a medal of courage from the Alhambra Police Department during the event.
The Dance Studio
Newcomers and longtime dancers alike have come to Star Ballroom Dance Studio, to learn dances from around the world.
It was and is in many ways a community hub that even offered karaoke hours, party-room rentals, kids’ lessons, a hip hop event, social dances.
Most of the students are in their 50s or 60s, as were many of the victims.
Maria Liang, the Star Ballroom’s sole owner for the past seven years, has not been back inside.
“Personally, just from seeing this, it’s a nightmare to me,” she said on Friday. “My best friends, they all died there. So tragic. … I think it will (weigh) on me for my lifetime. … I still can’t go back to work.”
It is unclear if Liang will reopen the Star Ballroom — she said she could not think that far ahead.
Authorities do not yet know what motivated the gunman.
Tran’s ex-wife told CNN earlier this week that he had once been a regular at the dance hall, where she met him.
Luna on Wednesday night acknowledged reports suggesting possible motivations, but nothing has been confirmed, authorities said.
He emphasized that investigators have yet to find any information to indicate he had been married at the time of the shooting, nor any proof he’d been at the ballroom in the past five years.
Luna has asked anyone with information to call investigators at 323-890-5500.
Authorities said they want to know the motive, but have acknowledged they may never be known.
As arrangements are being made, and in some cases, families are preparing to come to the United States to help to bury their loved ones.
Source: Orange County Register
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