Monterey Park shooting: Victims’ identities emerge as police seek motive

Second shooting was averted by club owner's grandson

Two men place flowers near the Star Dance Studio to honour victims killed in Saturday's massacre. AP
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California police on Monday were searching for a motive in the Monterey Park massacre that left 11 dead and nine wounded, as the identities of the victims began to trickle in.

Police said that on Saturday evening, Huu Can Tran, 72, walked into the Star Dance Studio and Ballroom, a club frequented by older residents in the predominantly Asian community, and opened fire, as Lunar New Year festivities concluded.

Monterey Park, which is about 13km east of Los Angeles, hosts one of the state’s largest Lunar New Year celebrations.

Ming Wei Ma, the club’s owner, ran towards the gunman and was among those killed.

“He was the first to rush at the shooter to try and save others,” his friend, Eric Chen, told KCAL News, describing Mr Ma as a caring and "people-first" person.

In an interview with The Pasadena Star-News in 2016, Mr Ma said his goal at the studio was to bring different nationalities together and to provide a place where the Asian community could “prolong their life and improve their health”.

“Having a place where people from all over the world can come together and communicate through dance is how I can help,” he told the paper.

Also killed in the shootings were My Nhan, 65, and Lilan Li, 63.

Ms Nhan's family issued a statement: “She spent so many years going to the Monterey Park Dance Studio on weekends … unfairly, Saturday was her last dance. We are starting the Lunar New Year broken.”

They described Ms Nhan’s “warm smile and kindness” as “contagious”.

Second shooting averted

About 20 minutes after the studio shooting, Mr Tran headed to the Lai Lai Dance Studio in nearby Alhambra, where he was disarmed by two people, including Brandon Tsay, the club owner’s grandson, authorities said.

Surveillance video shows Mr Tsay wrestling with Mr Tran.

“I got the gun, pointed it at him and said, ‘Get the hell out of here. I’ll kill you’” Mr Tsay told Good Morning America.

“He was just standing there contemplating whether to fight or to run away. I really thought I would have to shoot him.”

But the gunman fled and Mr Tsay called police “with the gun still in my hand”.

The semi-automatic firearm was used to identify the gunman, law enforcement officials said.

“He was disarmed by two community members who I consider to be heroes,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna on Sunday.

In the early morning hours following the shooting, authorities found Mr Tran dead of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound in his white van in the car park of the Del Amo Mall in Torrance, about 33km south of the crime scene.

Mr Tran’s former wife told CNN that he had never been violent towards her but could be quick to anger.

She said Mr Tran, who is a Chinese immigrant according to their marriage licence, was a default instructor at the Star Dance Studio.

Police reports show that Mr Tran filed a report in which he alleged that his family was trying to poison him.

Mr Luna also said that “everything is on the table” regarding his motive.

“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,” he said.

The Asian American-Pacific Islander Victory Alliance said: “The AAPI community is once again mourning in the aftermath of another act of gun violence.

“On the eve of what was to be a celebration for our community, this senseless tragedy in Monterey Park reminds us of the struggle that our community continues to endure because of America's violent history.

“Sadly, the gun industry and the NRA [National Rifle Association] have taken advantage of continued rising hate and violence against the AAPI community as a tactic to market and sell us even more guns.”

US President Joe Biden has ordered flags to be flown at half-mast.

Updated: January 25, 2023, 10:31 PM