MONTEREY PARK, Calif. – A hero emerged, victims names were released, and this close-knit, predominantly Asian American city was deep in mourning Monday as authorities worked to solve the mystery behind an elderly man’s shooting rampage that took 10 lives.
Relatives say Huu Can Tran, 72, had once given free lessons at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio, where the killings took place Saturday night 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 said Tran’s motive remained unclear. And on Monday they began releasing the names of his victims.
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
Two 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, and Lilan Li, 63, were among the five women killed. Two other women were in their 60s and one was in her 50s.
Five men were killed, three in their 70s and two in their 60s, the coroner’s office said.
Authorities released no information on what if any prior connection the victims had with their killer. A vigil for all the victims was set for Monday night.
The shooting took place Saturday night at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, nine miles east of downtown Los Angeles. Officers arrived within three minutes of receiving a call, Monterey Park Police Chief Scott 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.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna did not have the exact ages of the victims but said they all appeared to be over 50. Ten people were also wounded, seven of whom were still hospitalized late Sunday.
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. Two people at Lai Lai wrestled the firearm from Tran, and he fled, according to Luna.
“He was disarmed by two community members who I consider heroes because they saved lives. This could have been much worse,” he said.
Luna said the firearm was a “magazine-fed semi-automatic assault pistol’’ and its legality in California is being ascertained. 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.
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.”
The Alhambra ballroom was closed Sunday but planned to reopen for lessons Monday, according to a Facebook post.
Brandon 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 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 during 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 surveillance video shows a fierce struggle for the gun, and that no one else was involved in the struggle.
Luna said the the gunman’s van was spotted in Torrance, about 25 miles from Monterey Park. Armored SWAT vehicles and law enforcement SUVs quickly 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 armored 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 sustained a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Luna said. The occupant was pronounced dead at the scene.
Investigators conducted a search of the vehicle and soon determined the male inside the van was the subject of their intensive search. Authorities say they are not sure why Tran drove to Torrance.
Public records indicate Tran, 72, once had addresses in the city and nearby communities. Tran’s ex-wife told reporters that 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 and investigating.”
Tran was an immigrant from China, according to a marriage license copy his ex-wife provided to CNN. Records show they divorced in 2006.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department obtained a search warrant for Tran’s home in a senior community in Hemet, California, CNN reported. Records show Tran owned a mobile home in the community 85 miles east of Los Angeles in Riverside County.
President Joe Biden ordered U.S. flags to be flown at half staff on Monday “as a mark of respect for the victims of the senseless acts of violence perpetrated on January 21, 2023, in Monterey Park, California.” The U.S. 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 Colorado Springs nightclub.
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