Police believe the gunman at a Lunar New Year event in Monterey Park, Calif. wanted to continue killing more people when he arrived at a second dance hall two miles away from the scene of the mass shooting.
But he was stopped by a brave, and unarmed, 26-year-old who was working the ticket office at Lai Lai Ballroom and Studio in Alhambra. Brandon Tsay is being hailed as a hero for wrestling the gun away from the shooter.
“He was looking at me and looking around, not hiding that he was trying to do harm. His eyes were menacing,” Tsay told The New York Times.
Surveillance video from the ballroom, obtained by ABC News, shows the life-or-death struggle that saw Tsay taking control of the gunman’s weapon—which authorities called an “assault pistol”—and the gunman fleeing.
“I can tell you that the suspect walked in there probably with the intent to kill more people,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna told the press at a conference Sunday evening. Instead Tsay, and potentially another as-yet unnamed community member, stepped in to stop the violence.
The story of heroism comes as an 11th victim of the shooting died on Monday. The first names of victims are also being released. They range in age from their 50s through their 70s, and they were united by their love of dancing.
The shooter, who is believed to have also patronized the dance studio, is dead following a lengthy manhunt Sunday afternoon. He was found in Torrance, Calif., about 20 miles from the original crime scene. The 72-year-old man killed himself as officers closed in on his vehicle.
Police are still investigating the motive, but one community leader in Monterey Park said the gunman may have been angry that he had not been invited to a Lunar New Year dance. Earlier, Luna released images of the suspected gunman in a tweet Sunday, asking for help identifying an Asian male, and noted that he should be considered “armed and dangerous.”
The shooting happened about 10:20 p.m. Saturday just one block from where thousands of people had gathered earlier for Monterey Park’s Lunar New Year festival. The city of about 60,000 people about nine miles east of downtown Los Angeles is about 66% Asian American, with about half of that population being of Chinese origin. The area where the shooting happened is home to numerous noodle shops and other businesses catering to the Chinese American community.
“To have this happen during a time that we should be celebrating with family and coming together… is just extraordinarily sad,” Monterey Park Council Member Thomas Wong told TIME. “I think a lot of us are also angry, on edge, and just wondering what to make of this and trying to find out why this happened, or what happened and trying to find answers where we don’t have any yet.”
This marks the 33rd mass shooting just this year, and the fifth mass murder shooting, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
Here’s what we know so far.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department was called to Star Dance Studio at 10:22 p.m. on reports that shots were being fired in the 100 block of West Garvey Avenue.
“When officers arrived on scene, they observed numerous individuals, patrons … pouring out of the location, screaming,” sheriff’s Capt Andrew Meyer said at a press conference early Sunday.
Officers then entered the business and found several other victims who had been shot. The Monterey Park Fire Department arrived and pronounced 10 people dead, five men and five women, at the scene. At least 10 other people were taken to local hospitals, some in critical condition.
The victims have not yet been identified and no other information has been released. Luna said the victims are in their 50s and 60s—and some may be older.
Hattie Peng, who was at the dance hall at the time of the shooting, told CBS News that several people around her were struck. “You could see the bodies already, several lying there,” she said. Her dance partner, who shielded her from the bullets, was hit twice and taken to the hospital.
“He was my hero,” she said.
Seung Won Choi, owner of a seafood barbecue restaurant across from where the shooting happened, told the Los Angeles Times that three people ran into his restaurant and asked him to lock the door. He alleges that the shooter had multiple rounds of ammunition and reloaded his gun after he ran out.
Edwin Chen, who grew up in the area, says he rushed over from Woodland Hills when he heard the news. “This [was supposed to be] a happy time,” he told the Times. “I want to find out as much as possible. It’s still shocking.”
After leaving the shooting scene in Monterey Park, police say the suspect arrived about 20 minutes later at the Lai Lai Ballroom and Studio in Alhambra, Calif, about two miles away.
After wrestling with Tsay and losing his gun, the suspect then took off. Witnesses also identified a white cargo van as leaving the scene. That van was later located in Torrance and the suspect was found inside, dead.
The FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office is working with the sheriff department’s homicide bureau, the Monterey Park Police as the investigation continues.
What do we know about the gunman?
The suspected gunman is Huu Can Tran, 72, authorities said.
At a press conference 10 hours after the shooting, authorities could provide only a vague description of the gunman—identifying him as an “Asian male,” age 30-50.
The sheriff later released photos of the suspected gunman on Sunday afternoon, noting that he should be considered armed and dangerous.
At 10:20 a.m. Sunday, Torrance police located the van the suspect was driving and pulled it over. “When officers exited their patrol vehicle to contact the occupant, they heard one gunshot coming from within the van,” Sheriff Luna said.
A SWAT team later confirmed that the suspect inside had killed himself. Police also found evidence in the van linking the man to the shooting in Monterey Park Saturday night. At a press conference Sunday evening, Luna said that they found a handgun in the van and recovered a “magazine-fed semi-automatic assault pistol” at the Alhambra scene. Luna said he believes the pistol recovered from Alhambra may be illegal under California law.
Meyer said investigators have no information about a possible motive for the shooting. “We will look at every angle,” he said.
When asked about whether this event would be labeled as a hate crime, Sheriff Luna said it could be a possibility. “We don’t know if this is specifically a hate crime defined by law, but who walks into a dance hall and guns down 20 people,” he said Sunday morning.
Chester Chong, a community leader in Monterey Park, told ABC7 that the suspect in the shooting was not invited to the Lunar New Year dance, but his wife was. He said he’s heard from witnesses and other local leaders that jealousy may have been part of the motive for the shooting.
What do we know about the Lunar New Year festival?
The shooting took place a block away from the city’s Lunar New Year Celebration—one of the biggest across Southern California. The event, which was set to last through Sunday, has attracted more than 100,000 visitors per day in previous years. This year, the event kicked off on Saturday with carnival rides, traditional lion and dragon dances, and unique vendors.
Thousands of guests had already gathered at the event on Saturday, which was set to last until 9 p.m.
“It’s a time to celebrate and usher in hope and what represents new opportunity, a new time to kind of take stock of what happened in the last year and to look into the new year and wish others and especially those close to us,” city council member Wong, who was present at the celebration said. “To have this happen here hits so close to home for many of us.”
L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis, who was present at the city’s first Lunar New Year celebration since the pandemic, noted that the celebration would draw families back to Monterey Park year after year. “To see hundreds of thousands of people on Garvey [Ave.], to know that people could come out after the pandemic to celebrate and see family,” she said. “This was a place of welcoming.”
The festival has now been canceled by the city. Sheriff Luna noted that there would be added security at all Lunar New Year events in the area. Los Angeles police Chief Michel Moore tweeted that additional patrols would be in place across Asian communities and the department would be meeting with event organizers.
“I encourage people to go out and enjoy the events,” Luna said during Monday’s press conference.
What is the reaction to the shooting?
The City of Monterey Park announced that it would cancel the second day of the Lunar New Year festival, which was scheduled for Sunday, January 22, in response to the shooting. “The City expresses condolences to the individuals, families, and friends who were injured in this tragic incident,” it said in the statement Sunday morning.
A victim resource center has been set up at the Langley Senior Citizen Center for the survivors and victim’s families. Officials ask anyone who has not been able to locate a family member to reach out to the center for assistance.
President Joe Biden is aware of the shooting and was briefed by Homeland Security Advisor Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, according to a tweet by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. Biden also directed the FBI to provide “full support” to the local police force.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said his heart was mourning as he learned more about last night’s tragedy. “Monterey Park should have had a night of joyful celebration of the Lunar New Year,” tweeted Newsom on Sunday morning. “Instead, they were the victims of a horrific and heartless act of gun violence.”
Rep. Judy Chu, who represents Monterey Park, said she is “closely following the situation.”
“My heart is broken for the victims, their families, and the people of my hometown Monterey Park who were impacted by the mass shooting that took place during a night of Lunar New Year celebrations,” Chu said on Twitter.
The Mayor of Diamond Bar, California, Andrew Chou, also tweeted about the incident Sunday.
“Our prayers are with our friends and colleagues in the great city of Monterey Park,” Chou wrote. “We stand ready to lend our support during this difficult time as we wait for more confirmed details of an alleged mass shooting incident.”
Similar support was expressed by Mayor Sasha Renee Perez of Alhambra, where a possible related incident occurred. “Our community stands ready to do whatever we can to support all those impacted,” she tweeted.
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