Massacre in Monterey Park, California: The shooter is dead, but the motive remains a mystery

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CNN

It remains unclear why a 72-year-old man fired a hail of bullets at revelers celebrating the Lunar New Year – killing 10 people, wounding 10 others and destroying the mostly Asian-American city of Monterey Park, California.

And with the shooter, Huu Can Tran, killed by a self-inflicted gunshot wound, the answer may never be known.

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But as mourners mourn an unfathomable tragedy on what should have been a most auspicious day for many Asian Americans, officials credit “heroes” with helping to prevent even more carnage after another mass shooting across America.

Here’s the latest on the investigation into Saturday night’s massacre:

• Tran killed himself at noon on Sunday in the nearby town of Torrance when police approached his vehicle – a white van that matched the one they were looking for – police said.

• Tran shot dead 20 people at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park before driving to another dance hall near the Alhambra, where he brandished a semi-automatic weapon, investigators said.

• Two people at the Alhambra dance hall grabbed the shooter’s gun, Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said. “The suspect went to the Alhambra site after conducting the shooting (in Monterey Park) and was disarmed by two community members who I consider heroes,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna. “They saved lives. This could have been so much worse.

• The weapon was a 9mm Cobray M11 semi-automatic weapon, a police officer told CNN. It was designed to carry 30-shot magazines that allow for quick shots without the need to change magazines frequently. The gun was traced back to the suspect, giving authorities his name and description.

• Investigators found “various evidence” in Tran’s white van linking him to Monterey Park and Alhambra dance studios, the sheriff said, without elaborating. They also found a weapon, Luna said.

• Among the dead were two women – My Nhan, 65, and Lilan Li, 63 – the Los Angeles County coroner said on Monday. Nine of the 10 victims were in their 60s or 70s, and all – five men and five women – were over 50. Authorities are working to identify the others and notify their loved ones.

• The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department obtained a search warrant for Tran’s home in the senior community about 80 miles east of Monterey Park – The Lakes at Hemet West – confirmed a spokesman for the Hemet Police.

• The Monterey Park massacre marks one of at least 36 mass shootings in the US so far this month.

When police arrived at the Monterey Park dance studio, “they were faced with a scene that none of them were prepared for,” said city police chief Scott Wiese. The killer inflicted “extensive” carnage before fleeing the scene.

A few miles away, in the Alhambra, Brandon Tsay worked at the ticket office at the Lai Lai Ballroom & Studio, unaware of the massacre. So the same gunslinger went into his family business for three generations.

“By his body language, his facial expression, his eyes, he was looking for people,” Tsay told The New York Times.

“He was looking at me and looking around, not hiding that he was trying to do harm,” he said. “His eyes were menacing.”

The gunman pointed a semi-automatic weapon at Tsay – the first gun he had seen in real life – he told the Times.

“My heart sank”, he said, “I knew I was going to die”.

Tsay struggled with the man for about a minute and a half and ended up pulling the gun away from him when the man took his hand away, he told the Times.

“At that moment, it was a primal instinct,” he said. “I don’t know what came over me.”

As soon as Tsay took control of the gun, he told the Times, he pointed it back at the suspect and yelled at him to “get the hell out of here.”

Tran was once a familiar face at Star Ballroom Dance Studio, where he taught informal dance classes, three people who knew him told CNN. But it’s unclear how many times he has visited in recent years, if at all.

He even met his ex-wife there about two decades ago after he saw her at a dance, introduced himself and offered free lessons, the ex-wife said.

Tran sometimes worked as a truck driver, his ex-wife said. He was an immigrant from China, according to a copy of his marriage certificate she showed CNN.

The two got married shortly after they met, according to the ex-wife, who asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the case.

And Tran had a quick temper, his ex-wife and others said.

Although he was never violent towards her, the ex-wife said, Tran would get upset if she missed a dance step because he thought it made him look bad.

Tran filed for divorce in late 2005, and a judge approved the divorce the following year, Los Angeles court records show.

Another longtime acquaintance of Tran also remembers him as a regular patron of the dance studio. The friend, who also asked not to be identified, was close with Tran in the late 2000s and early 2010s, when he said Tran came to the dance studio “almost every night” from his home in nearby San Gabriel.

Back then, Tran was always complaining that the dance hall instructors didn’t like him and said “bad things about him,” the friend recalled. He said that Tran was “unfriendly with a lot of people there”.

In general, Tran was easily irritated, complained a lot and didn’t seem to trust people, the friend said.

Tran’s friend was “utterly shocked” when he heard about the shooting, he said, noting that he hadn’t seen Tran in several years.

“I know a lot of people, and if they go to the Star studio, they go there,” said the friend. He said he was “worried I might know some of the” victims of the shooting.

Despite a spate of deadly attacks and harassment against Asian-Americans during the pandemic, Saturday’s attack shocked many in Monterey Park – where about 65% of residents are of Asian descent and about 100,000 Southern Californians regularly attend Lunar New Year celebrations.

“I’ve lived here for 37 years and I never would have thought that something so terrible could happen,” Representative Judy Chu, who represents Monterey Park in Congress, told CNN on Sunday.

“This is a close-knit community and it has been very peaceful all these years. So that’s why it’s even more devastating for this to happen.”

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