‘He Was Looking for People’: What We Know About the Monterey Park Shooter

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A 72-year-old man shot and killed 10 people on Saturday night at a dance studio in Monterey Park, California, where decades earlier he had met his wife.

On Sunday night police named the shooter as Huu Can Tran, and confirmed that he had taken his own life earlier in the day. Police found his body inside the van he used as a getaway vehicle the night before.

Authorities have yet to identify why the gunman did what he did.

“We still are not clear on the motive,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said at a press conference Sunday night.

The gunman’s ex-wife and former friends have described him as irritable and  “quick to anger,” while police sources told the LA Times that the gunman had recently gone to a police station close to where he lived to claim his family was trying to poison him.

Saturday night’s massacre happened as thousands of people gathered to celebrate the Lunar New Year festival in Monterey Park, a city of 60,000 people located seven miles from downtown Los Angeles. The city is a haven for Asian Americans, who make up almost two thirds of the population. It was once described by a developer as the Chinese Beverly Hills.

The massacre on Saturday is the 36th mass shooting to take place in the U.S. since the year began, according to Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit that defines a mass shooting as a shooting where four or more people are injured or killed. It is the deadliest attack since the Uvalde school shooting last May when 21 people, including 19 children, were killed.

As a mark of respect to the victims, President Joe Biden ordered flags to be flown at half staff on the White House and all federal buildings until sunset on Thursday.

“I still have questions in my mind, which is, what was the motive for this shooter? Did he have a mental illness? Was he a domestic violence abuser? How did he get these guns, and was it through legal means? Well, those questions will have to be answered in the future,” said Rep. Judy Chu, whose district includes Monterey Park and who served three terms as the city’s mayor, during a news conference on Sunday night.

What happened?

Just after 10:20 p.m. the gunman entered the Star Ballroom Dance Studio, which was hosting an event called “Star Night.” 

Carrying a long rifle, he opened fire, shooting indiscriminately at those attending the dance, according to police and eyewitness accounts. One eyewitness told the New York Times that at one point the gunman ran out of ammunition, so left and came back. “No one could get out,” she said.

Five men and five women were killed, and 10 others were injured. Seven of those injured are still in hospital. None of the identities of the victims have been released. Typically those attending these dances are in their 60s, 70, 80s, and even 90s, according to one dance instructor who spoke to the LA Times

About 20 minutes after leaving the Star Ballroom, the gunman walked into the Lai Lai Ballroom & Studio in nearby Alhambra, officials said. “The suspect walked in there, probably with the intent to kill two more people,” Luna said. “But two community members disarmed him, took possession of his weapon, and the suspect ran away.”

The weapon taken from the gunman at the Lai Lai Ballroom was a Cobray M11 9mm semi-automatic, a law enforcement source told CNN

At a press conference Sunday night, Luna described the gun as a “magazine-fed, semi-automatic assault pistol” with an extended, large-capacity magazine. Such customization means shooters can use 30-round magazines, which allows for rapid fire without having to change magazines frequently.

“I believe the weapon is not legal to have here in the state of California,” Luna said in response to a question from a reporter. He said the police used the gun to trace the gunman’s name and address.

Brandon Tsay, the owner of the Lai Lai Ballroom, who was one of those who disarmed the gunman, told the New York Times that it was clear the weapon was designed to cause maximum damage.

“How it was built and customized, I knew it wasn’t for robbing money,” Tsay said. “From his body language, his facial expression, his eyes, he was looking for people.”

Witnesses to the second attempted shooting reported the gunman fleeing in a white cargo van, which sparked a manhunt. The LA County Sheriff’s Department police released an alert seeking information about the suspect.

At 10:20 a.m. on Sunday, the van was located in a strip mall parking lot in Torrance, about 30 miles from the scene of the massacre.

As officers approached the vehicle they heard a single gunshot coming from the van. Hours later a SWAT team entered the van and found the gunman dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Who was the gunman?

Little is known about the 72-year-old so far. His ex-wife spoke to CNN on Sunday and revealed that the pair had first met at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio two decades earlier. 

The studio was a popular community gathering spot, and the gunman had given informal lessons there. He approached his ex-wife at one of the dances and introduced himself, offering her free dance lessons.

The couple married quickly, but soon after the gunman filed for divorce. His ex-wife told CNN she felt he had lost interest in her. Court records show the divorce was finalized in 2006.

The gunman was not ever violent, his ex-wife said, but he had been “quick to anger.” He would become irritated when she made a mistake while they were dancing, she said, because he felt it made him look bad. 

The shooter was a Chinese immigrant, according to his marriage license, which his ex-wife provided to CNN.

Public records show that the gunman had been living at “a 55+ active living community” called Lakes at Hemet West, which was a mobile home park about 90 minutes from the Star Ballroom.

There is no indication so far about where the gunman had worked in recent years, but his ex-wife said that he had driven trucks from time to time, and public records show he registered a company called Tran’s Trucking Inc. in California in 2002, before dissolving it two years later.

As the police work to confirm the identities of the victims of America’s latest mass shooting, some families of those who were in attendance wait nervously for news of their loved ones. 

Jeff Liu was at the dance studio on Saturday night and was grazed by bullets. He was there with his wife, Nancy, who he saw collapse during the incident. 

But as of Sunday afternoon, Liu and his daughter Juno Blees told the New York Times they had no information about what had happened to her. “We called all of the hospitals, but we could not locate her.”

Blees said her parents had emigrated from China 20 years ago and had found a community in Monterey Park, and at the dance studio in particular. “My parents go there a lot. They love it. They know everyone there,” she said. “It is terrible what happened.”

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