February 3, 2023

Money News PH

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Shooter dies from self-inflicted gunshot after mass shooting at Monterey Park

LOS ANGELES — It was a Lunar New Year party and dance students gathered at a popular studio in the heart of Monterey Park, California, once marketed as the city of dreams for Chinese immigrants newly arrived in America.

Attached to an Asian herb shop, the Star Ballroom Dance Studio’s exterior was unassuming, its entrance marked by a small awning from a parking lot. But its sprawling dance floor attracted marquee teachers and top-notch performers from around the world. It was considered a haven for its clientele, many of whom were elderly Chinese Americans who had found a comfortable spot to trundle around and socialize. Late at night music for waltzes, foxtrots, tango and more emanated from its doors.

But on Saturday night, sometime after 10 p.m., a gunman stepped inside, shattering any sense of refuge.

Five men and five women were fatally shot and ten others injured before the gunman, police believe, left the scene and entered a second dance club at the nearby Alhambra, where guests were able to disarm him before fleeing in what what investigators referred to as a white van.

The drama ended Sunday afternoon when, after an hours-long manhunt, a SWAT team detained this van in a Torrance parking lot, about 30 miles from the scene of the shooting. Officers heard a gunshot as they approached the van and determined that the suspect had shot himself, Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said.

The man, identified as Huu Can Tran, 72, was pronounced dead at the scene.

“I am here to report that the suspect responsible for this tragedy is no longer a threat,” the sheriff said.

The attack was the deadliest mass shooting in the United States since the massacre in Uvalde, Texas last May, which killed 19 children and two teachers, and the second major shooting in less than a week in California after gunmen killed a family had six in Tulare County last Monday in what police say was likely a gang-related homicide.

Sunday’s killings came on the eve of the Lunar New Year, a significant holiday for Asian Americans that had drawn thousands of people to celebrate in Monterey Park earlier in the day, with plans to continue on Sunday. Neighbors were later horrified to learn that what they had taken for the sound of celebratory fireworks was actually the sound of gunfire.

Dozens of people were in the dance studio on Saturday night, many of them standing in front of a mirror as they performed a Chinese square dance, according to a student named Grace, who was there and said she had been dancing in the studio for about four years.

She said many people didn’t notice when the shooter first arrived. Then a round of rapid-fire gunfire rang out. “No one dared to flee. We all went down and hid wherever we could,” said Grace, who asked to be identified by her English first name only. She said the gunman appeared to have run out of ammo, left and then returned. “No one could get out,” she said.

People fled to the back, she said, trying to hide in the restrooms and a karaoke room.

She said she heard at least 10 gunshots. “The first time was five or six or seven times in a row. And then he ran out of bullets and then he came back and kept shooting.” All in all, the shooter was in the studio for about five minutes, she said.

Jeff Liu, 62, was standing near the entrance when the gunman entered, according to his daughter Juno Blees. Mr. Liu was hit by bullets in his shoulder and back, she said.

Ms Blees said her father told her the gunman appeared to have fired indiscriminately at those inside, including a worker selling tickets at a stall.

Mr. Liu’s wife, Nancy, collapsed and as of Sunday afternoon, the family did not know her whereabouts or her condition, she said. “We called all the hospitals but we couldn’t find them.”

Monterey Park Police Chief Scott Wiese said the officers, who arrived at the ballroom less than three minutes after the initial call, were among the youngest in the city. The scene they encountered was “chaos,” he said, with dead and injured inside the building and witnesses running out the doors.

“My young officers did their job looking for a suspect and then came back and had to deal with the carnage that was inside,” he said. “And it was extensive.”

Officials learned the suspect walked next to the dance club in Alhambra, Sheriff Luna said, where he was disarmed by community members who he says should be considered heroes.

“I can tell you that the suspect went in there, probably with the intention of killing more people,” he said.

After the alarm went off for the white van, tactical teams surrounded a vehicle matching that description in Torrance, the sheriff said. More than an hour of tense preparation ensued, during which tactical officers with armored vehicles held the van down and eventually smashed the windows and entered. Sheriff Luna said evidence found in the van linked the man inside, who shot and killed himself, to both crime scenes.

A handgun was recovered from the van, Sheriff Luna said, adding that the gun seized from the suspect at the Alhambra, a magazine-type semi-automatic assault pistol with an extended large-capacity magazine attached, is unlikely to be legal in California.

Monterey Park, a city of about 60,000 people, is over 60 percent Asian American. Located about seven miles east of downtown Los Angeles, it is considered a mecca for Chinese immigrants, a place where they can find solace in the cuisine and language of their native country while leaving American roots for their children. With more space than Los Angeles’ Chinatown, it’s a suburban enclave that a prominent developer once promoted as “the Chinese Beverly Hills,” and it remains a destination in the San Gabriel Valley, a region known for its immigrants and Asian Latinos Kitchen.

After a three-year hiatus during the pandemic, the city’s two-day New Year’s celebration was a highly anticipated event. On Saturday afternoon, Garvey Avenue, a major thoroughfare, was a merry scene with vendors and rides. But it would soon be cordoned off with police tape.

Rep. Judy Chu, whose district includes Monterey Park and has served as mayor three times, said the attack “put a hole in all of our hearts.” She had, she said, become a member of an unfortunate club: a citizen leader with a mass shooting to respond to.

“It’s happening daily now and we can hardly count these mass shootings,” Ms. Chu said.

She said it’s important to limit the availability of guns “so it’s not as easy for someone to go into a facility and shoot people and ruin their lives,” she said.

On Sunday, the families of the victims and others who had long gathered in the dance studio tried to understand what had happened.

Ms Blees, whose father was injured and mother missing, said her parents emigrated to Monterey Park from China more than 20 years ago and rarely left each other’s sides. She said her father was resting at home, torn by the lack of news about his wife and the dear friends he’d made over the years.

“My parents often go there. They love it. You know everyone there,” she said. “It’s terrible what happened.”

Elizabeth Yang, who dances in the studio on Mondays, said that at 40, she is usually the youngest in the audience. The students take their craft seriously, she said, and women come in long, jeweled dresses. But they arrive in a welcoming environment, with refreshments and warm regards, she said.

“They are people who want to enjoy the rest of their lives and have some fun,” Ms. Yang said. “They were kind enough to put me in front of the class so I could be closer to the teacher.”

Heather Smith, a dance coach who coaches competitors at Star Dance Ballroom, said she and the studio owner were at a ballroom competition and gala elsewhere when the shooting occurred, but that the owner’s boyfriend was with the died in shootings.

“Our dance community is very tight-knit,” said Ms. Smith. “We are all completely shocked.”

Ms Smith said the studio owner had intentions of reopening the dance studio during the pandemic “because she knows dancing makes everyone happy”.

Thomas Wong, a Monterey Park councilman who grew up in the city and whose parish includes the site of the shooting, said many of his acquaintances have taken classes at the studio.

“It’s a long-standing business in the community and a gathering place,” Mr Wong said. “It’s shocking, especially this weekend, out of all weekends,” he added. “We welcomed everyone back for the first time since the pandemic. Starting the year like this is just tragic.”

Vik Jolly and Tim Arango contributed coverage from Monterey Park. Shawn Hubler contributed from Sacramento. Kellen Browning contributed from Torrance. Additional reporting was provided by Edgar Sandoval, Jack Healy, Isabella Kwai, David W. Chen, Angela Chen, Glenn Thrush, Muyi Xiao, and Ang Li. Susan C. Beachy contributed to the research.