MONTEREY PARK, Calif. – A hero emerged, some victims’ names were released, and this close-knit, predominantly Asian American city was in mourning as the death toll from an elderly man’s shooting rampage rose to 11 on Monday.
The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services said Monday that one of the four people from the Monterey Park shooting being treated at the LA County-USC Medical Center has died of gunshot wounds. A department’s news release said another of the wounded patients was in serious condition and the other two were recovering.
Authorities said the initial death count from Saturday night’s attack at a dance studio was 10, and at least 10 were injured. Most of the victims were age 60 or older.
Relatives say the gunman, Huu Can Tran, 72, had once given free lessons at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio, where the killings took place hours after Lunar New Year celebrations. Tran was found dead Sunday of a self-inflicted gunshot wound inside a white cargo van.
Brandon Tsay, a part-time helper at another dance hall in nearby Alhambra, wrestled the gun from Tran minutes after the first attack and is credited with saving many lives.
Authorities continued searching for clues about Tran’s motive, which remained unclear. “We all want answers to questions that we may never have answers to,” Monterey Park Police Chief Scott Wiese said. “That’s kind of the enigma of this.”
SHOOTING TIMELINE:How the deadly attack at a Monterey Park dance studio unfolded
‘COULD HAVE BEEN MUCH WORSE’:Monterey Park gunman disarmed by ‘heroes’ at second dance studio, sheriff says
Authorities shared more information Monday afternoon about what their investigation has found, including details about Tran that indicate he had a fondness for firearms and could have been preparing other attacks.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said a search of Tran’s home revealed he had a rifle, hundreds of rounds of ammunition and equipment to manufacture homemade silencers.
Tran was arrested in 1990 for unlawful possession of a firearm, Luna said, but the handgun discovered in the van where Tran was found dead was registered to him.
He used a different weapon, described by Luna as a “magazine-fed semi-automatic assault pistol,’’ at the Monterey Park dance hall where 11 people were killed. Luna said Tran shot 42 rounds there, using a large-capacity magazine attached to the gun.
As police continue to search for a motive, Luna said he could not verify reports that Tran acted out of jealousy. He also said one of the victims was killed in a car outside the dance hall, likely before the rampage.
Police initially said two patrons thwarted Tran’s attempt at further mayhem at a second dance studio in nearby Alhambra, but Luna clarified it was only one man, venue employee Brandon Tsay, who disarmed the intruder.
“What a brave man he is,’’ Luna said.
Four victims have been identified by the Los Angeles County coroner’s office, which said it was waiting until relatives of the others could be notified before releasing more names. My Nhan, 65, Lilan Li, 63, and Xiujuan Yu, 57, were among the five women killed. The two other women were in their 60s.
Alvaro Valentino, 68, is the only man among the five killed who has been identified. Of the other four, three were in their 70s and one in his 60s, the coroner’s office said.
Authorities released no information on what if any connection the victims had with their killer. A vigil for all the victims was set for Monday night.
The shooting took place at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, 9 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. Officers arrived within three minutes of receiving a call, Wiese said. Officers found people trying to flee through all the doors.
“When they came into the parking lot, it was chaos,” Wiese said. He said officers aided the wounded and within one or two minutes put together a team to enter the building, where they found the dead and injured. Ten people were wounded, some of them critically.
About 20 to 30 minutes after the shooting at Star Ballroom, an Asian man with a gun entered the Lai Lai Ballroom in nearby Alhambra, Luna said.
After saying Sunday that two people at Lai Lai wrested the firearm from Tran and he fled, Luna clarified Monday it was employee Brandon Tsay who confronted the gunman, saying he “saved lives. This could have been much worse.”
Luna said the firearm was a “magazine-fed semi-automatic assault pistol,’’ and investigators were trying to determine whether the gun was legal in the state. He said authorities began looking for a white van after witnesses reported seeing the suspect flee from Alhambra. Another handgun was discovered in the van, he said.
Based on the initial information, the city of Alhambra praised the bravery of those at the ballroom who disarmed the gunman and prevented further carnage.
“We send our thoughts and prayers to the victims. We thank the individuals who stepped up to help and prevent further injury,” the city wrote in a news release. “We also acknowledge those who stepped in here in Alhambra to disarm an individual threatening our own community.”
Tsay, a computer coder and the third-generation operator of the family-run Lai Lai dance hall, was in an office off the lobby when he heard the front door click. He said he turned and saw a man holding a gun.
“My first thought was I was going to die here – this is it,” Tsay, 26, told ABC News’ Robin Roberts in an interview Monday on “Good Morning America.”
Tsay said he saw the gunman start prepping the weapon and realized he needed to disarm him or “else everybody would have died.”
“When I got the courage, I lunged at him with both my hands, grabbed the weapon and we had a struggle,” Tsay said. “We struggled into the lobby, trying to get this gun away from each other. He was hitting me across the face, bashing the back of my head.”
Tsay said he then pointed the gun at the suspect and shouted: “Get the hell out of here! I’ll shoot! Get away! Go!” The gunman paused, then fled to his van. Tsay then called police. Family members told The New York Times that surveillance video shows a fierce struggle for the gun, and that no one else was involved in the struggle.
Darren Yan, a 21-year-old resident of nearby Alhambra, paid his respects Monday at a makeshift memorial at the Monterey Park Civic Center, less than a mile from where the shooting took place.
“As more of the story came up, the more I got so depressed,” said Yan, incredulous about the violence perpetrated in a city so close to where he grew up. “I’m like, ‘Wow, this actually happened.’ Like, why did this happen?”
Another impromptu memorial materialized at the gate outside the dance studio that was attacked, as some people laid flowers and others joined in group prayer.
Hong Lee, a Los Angeles resident who became an advocate for Asian-American justice after she was the victim of a hate incident in August 2020, stopped by the dance hall and said the shooting has put much of the community on edge.
“You just don’t know the next time you go out, are you going to be safe,” Lee said. “We’re our own personal first responders.”
— Jordan Mendoza
Luna said the the gunman’s van was spotted in Torrance, about 25 miles from Monterey Park. Armored SWAT vehicles and law enforcement SUVs surrounded the van Sunday at a parking lot across from the Del Amo mall. When the officers got out of their patrol car around 10:20 a.m. Sunday, they heard a gunshot from the van and called for help, Luna said. Two SWAT vehicles were driven to the site and pinned the van in from the front and back. About an hour later, SWAT team members smashed a van window and entered.
“Our sheriff’s SWAT team approached and cleared the van,” then determined the occupant had shot himself, Luna said. The occupant was pronounced dead at the scene.
Investigators searched the vehicle and determined that the man inside was the subject of their search. Authorities say they are not sure why Tran drove to Torrance.
At 72, Tran is the oldest mass shooter in the U.S. in at least six decades, 40 years older than the average perpetrator of these crimes.
Public records indicate Tran once had addresses in Monterey Park and nearby communities. Tran’s ex-wife told reporters her husband used to give informal lessons at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio. Another longtime acquaintance also said Tran used to frequently visit the dance studio, although it is unclear how long it had been since he danced there.
“We do understand that he may have had a history of visiting this dance hall and perhaps the motivation has to do with some personal relationships,” Monterey Park Mayor Henry Lo said. “But that’s something that I think investigators are still uncovering.”
Tran was an immigrant from China, according to a marriage license copy his former wife provided to CNN. Records show they divorced in 2006. He lived in a small home in a retirement community in Hemet, about 80 miles east of Los Angeles.
Hemet Police Department spokesman Alan Reyes said Tran visited a police station on Jan. 7 and 9 of this year and reported allegations of past theft and fraud by family members in Los Angeles County while claiming they had poisoned him over the last few decades. Tran told police he would return to the station with evidence of the alleged crimes but never did, Reyes said.
Contributing: Christopher Damien, The Desert Sun
President Joe Biden ordered U.S. flags to be flown at half staff on Monday. The flag will be flown at half-staff at the White House and all public buildings and grounds, military posts, Navy ships, embassies and other offices abroad until sunset Thursday, Biden said in his proclamation.
The tragedy marked the fifth mass killing in the U.S. since the start of the year. It is also the deadliest since May 24, when 21 people were killed in a school in Uvalde, Texas, according to The Associated Press/USA TODAY database on mass killings in the U.S.
The database also shows that 2022 was also one of the worst years ever in terms of mass killings: 42 such attacks – the second-highest number since the creation of the tracker in 2006. The database defines a mass killing as four people killed not including the perpetrator.
The latest violence comes two months after five people were killed at a nightclub in Colorado Springs.
MASS KILLINGS IN THE US:Revealing trends, details and anguish of every event in the United States since 2006
Contributing from USA TODAY: Marc Ramirez, Cady Stanton. Includes information from The Associated Press