California police investigate motive in Asian dance hall massacre

California investigators scrambled on Monday to pin down why an elderly gunman killed 10 people in a Los Angeles-area dance hall popular with older patrons of Asian descent before fatally shooting himself hours later.

Police identified 72-year-old Huu Can Tran as the suspect in Saturday night’s massacre, which took place over the Lunar New Year, one of the most festive holidays in Asian cultures.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said on Sunday that “everything is on the table” in terms of motive for the shooting, which also wounded 10 others.

“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?” Luna said.

Officials worked into Monday trying to identify the 10 people Tran allegedly killed at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, about 7 miles (11 km) east of downtown Los Angeles. Ten people were wounded in the attack, and seven of them were still hospitalized late Sunday.

Tran’s rampage could have been worse. About 20 minutes after the shooting in Monterey Park, he entered the Lai Lai Ballroom & Studio dance club in the neighboring city of Alhambra. There, Brandon Tsay, who operates the family-run dance hall, wrestled a weapon away from the shooter before he could get a shot off.

“That moment, it was primal instinct,” Tsay told the New York Times, saying that the gunman fled the scene after a 90-second struggle. “Something happened there. I don’t know what came over me.”

About 12 hours later, police officers in Torrance, 20 miles southwest of Monterey Park, approached a white cargo van that Tran was driving. As officers neared the van, they heard a single gun shot from inside as Tran killed himself.

Luna did not identify any of the victims but said the five men and five women appeared to be in their 50s, 60s and beyond. the Los Angeles Coroner’s Office said 65-year-old My Nhan and 63-year-old Lilan Li, both women, were among the dead. ABC News identified one of the deceased as dance instructor Ming Wei Ma.

A candlelight vigil was scheduled for Monday evening at Monterey Park’s City Hall to honor the victims.

Mass shooting during Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations in Monterey Park

Luna said the pistol that Tran used was likely illegal in California, having a magazine whose capacity exceeded the state limit of 10 rounds.

Local police have obtained a warrant to search Tran’s home in Hemet, California, about 80 miles east of Monterey Park, CNN reported. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department declined to comment, and Hemet Police dispatch could not confirm the report.

Huu Can Tran had an active trucking license and owned a company called Tran’s Trucking Inc with a post office box address in Monterey Park, according to online records. He had lived in the Los Angeles area since at least the 1990s and moved into a mobile home in a senior living community in Hemet in 2020, address records showed.

Tran was a frequent visitor to dance studios, CNN reported, including the one he attacked on Saturday night. An unnamed friend told CNN that he had a quick temper.

The shooting took place during a two-day Chinese Lunar New Year celebration in Monterey Park, which draws thousands of people from across Southern California.

The Star Ballroom Dance Studio, which one of its teachers described to Reuters as a beloved community hub for middle-aged and older adults looking for exercise and social interaction, was hosting a Lunar New Year dance when the shooting occurred.

As news about the shooting spread, some in the tight-knit community of Monterey Park initially feared it was a hate crime targeting Asians. The city of 60,000 people has for decades been a destination for immigrants from China. Around 65% of its residents are Asian, according to U.S. Census data.

The gunshots were mistaken by some for New Year fireworks, according to Tiffany Chiu, 30, who was celebrating at her parents’ home near the ballroom.

“A lot of older people live here, it’s usually really quiet,” she said. “This is not something you expect here.”

Reporting by Tim Reid in Monterey Park; Additional reporting by Gabriella Borter, Rich McKay, Brendan O’Brien, Brad Brooks, Jonathan Allen, Dan Whitcomb and Timothy Gardner; Editing by Stephen Coates and Nick Zieminski

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