Monterey Park, California massacre: The gunman is dead, but the motive remains a mystery

Monterey Park, California massacre: The gunman is dead, but the motive remains a mystery


It’s still not clear why a 72-year-old man unleashed a hailstorm of bullets on revelers celebrating Lunar New Year – killing 10 people, wounding 10 others and shattering the majority-Asian American city of Monterey Park, California.

And with the gunman, Huu Can Tran, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, the answer may never be known.


But while mourners grieve unfathomable tragedy on what should have been the most auspicious day for many Asian Americans, authorities credit “heroes” for helping prevent even more carnage after yet another mass shooting in America.

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

• Tran fatally shot himself midday Sunday in the nearby city of Torrance as police closed in on his vehicle – a white van that matched one they were looking for – police said.

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

• Two people at the Alhambra dance hall wrestled the weapon away from the gunman, Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said. “The suspect went to the Alhambra location after he conducted the shooting (in Monterey Park), and he was disarmed by two community members who I consider to be heroes,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said. “They saved lives. This could’ve been much worse.”

• The weapon was a Cobray M11 9mm semi-automatic weapon, a law enforcement official told CNN. It’s designed to take 30-round magazines that allow for rapid fire without having to frequently change magazines. The weapon was traced to the suspect, giving authorities his name and description.

• Investigators found “several pieces of evidence” in Tran’s white van linking him to the Monterey Park and Alhambra dance studios, the sheriff said, without giving further details. They also found a handgun, Luna said.

• Among those slain were two women – My Nhan, 65, and Lilan Li, 63 – the Los Angeles County coroner’s office said 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 loved ones.

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

• The massacre in Monterey Park 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 came across a scene that none of them had been prepared for,” city police chief Scott Wiese said. The killer had inflicted “extensive” carnage before fleeing the scene.

A few miles away in Alhambra, Brandon Tsay was working the ticket office of the Lai Lai Ballroom & Studio, unaware of the massacre. Then, the same gunman entered the business his family had owned for three generations.

“From 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 threatening.”

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 eventually wrestled the gun from him when the man took his hand off it, he told the Times.

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

Once Tsay gained control of the gun, he told the Times, he pointed it back at the suspect and yelled for him to “get the hell out of here.”

Tran had once been a familiar face at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio, where he gave informal dance lessons, three people who knew him told CNN. But it’s not clear how often he 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 her free lessons, the ex-wife said.

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

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

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

While he was never violent to her, the ex-wife said, Tran would get upset if she missed a step dancing because he felt 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 remembered him as a regular patron of the dance studio. The friend, who also asked not to be named, was close to Tran in the late 2000s and early 2010s, when he said Tran would come to the dance studio “almost every night” from his home in nearby San Gabriel.

At that time, Tran often complained that the instructors at the dance hall didn’t like him and said “evil things about him,” the friend recalled. He said Tran was “hostile to a lot of people there.”

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

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

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

Despite a surge of deadly attacks and harassment against Asian Americans throughout the pandemic, Saturday’s attack shocked many in Monterey Park – where about 65% of residents are of Asian descent and some 100,000 people from across Southern California typically turn out for Lunar New Year celebrations.

“I’ve lived here for 37 years, and I could never have imagined such a terrible thing happening,” Rep. Judy Chu, who represents Monterey Park in Congress, told CNN on Sunday.

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

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