MONTEREY PARK, Calif. – The hunt for a gunman who killed 10 people at a dance club after Lunar New Year celebrations ended with the discovery of his body in a parked van, but the search for answers was far from over Monday.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said 72-year-old Huu Can Tran was found dead Sunday of a self-inflicted gunshot wound inside the van in which he fled after a second shooting was thwarted. No other suspects were at large, and Luna said that the motive for the Saturday night attacks remained unclear.
Rep. Judy Chu, speaking at the briefing Sunday, said she hopes residents of this predominantly Asian American city of 60,000 people feel safe again. But she still has questions about the attack.
“What was the motive for this shooter?” she said. “Did he have a mental illness? Was he a domestic violence abuser? How did he get these guns and was it through legal means or not?”
‘COULD HAVE BEEN MUCH WORSE’:Monterey Park gunman disarmed by ‘heroes’ at second dance studio, sheriff says
The shooting took place Saturday night at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, a predominantly Asian American community. Officers arrived within three minutes of receiving the 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 wounded.
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 in the hospital 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.’’ 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 on 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 72-year-old shooter’s van was spotted in Torrance, California. 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.
The van was found about 30 miles from the site of Saturday night’s attack at the Monterey Park dance studio and the attempted attack in Alhambra. Authorities say they are not sure why the killer drove there.
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