California police search shooter’s home seeking motive for dance hall massacre

A law enforcement official looks into the window of a van with a body in the driver's seat in Torrance, California, on Jan 22, 2023. PHOTO: AFP

MONTEREY PARK, California - California police, seeking to learn the motive behind one of the state’s worst mass shootings, on Monday searched the home of the elderly gunman who killed 10 people in a Los Angeles area dance hall on Saturday before fatally shooting himself.

Police identified 72-year-old Huu Can Tran as the suspect in the massacre, which took place during a Chinese New Year celebration at Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, a dance hall popular with older patrons of Asian descent.

Tran, whom a former tenant described to Reuters as “angry and distrustful,” killed 10 people between the ages of 50 and 80 and wounded 10 others, police said.

On Sunday, Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said “everything is on the table” in terms of identifying the reasons for the shooting.

Mayor Henry Lo of Monterey Park, a city about 10km east of downtown Los Angeles with a predominantly Asian population, told NBC earlier on Monday that the shooting might have been motivated by a domestic dispute. He retracted that statement in a later interview with Reuters.

“There’s a lot of speculation and we don’t know,” Mr Lo said.

Officers in Hemet, about 130km east of Los Angeles, were assisting the county Sheriff’s Department in a search of Tran’s mobile home in a gated senior living community, said Mr Alan Reyes, spokesman for the Hemet Police Department.

The search began at around 8.30pm on Sunday and continued on on Monday, Mr Reyes said, adding that Tran had not been known to Hemet police.

Tran had an active trucking licence and had owned a company called Tran’s Trucking, 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 to the mobile home in Hemet in 2020, address records showed.

Mr Adam Hood, a longtime tenant of the alleged gunman at a property in the Los Angeles area, told Reuters Tran was an aggressive and suspicious person who had few friends. But he liked ballroom dancing, largely his only social activity.

Mr Hood said Tran complained that people at the Star Ballroom studio were talking behind his back.

“He was a good dancer in my opinion,” Mr Hood said. “But he was distrustful of the people at the studio, angry and distrustful. I think he just had enough.”

Tragedy and a chase

Tran’s rampage could have been worse. About 20 minutes after the shooting in Monterey Park, he entered the Lai Lai Ballroom and Studio dance club in the neighbouring city of Alhambra.

There, Mr 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,” Mr 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.”

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About 12 hours later, police officers in Torrance, 30km south=west of Monterey Park, cornered 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.

Authorities have not yet released names of all the victims, pending notification of their families, but all were between 50 and 80 years old. The Los Angeles Coroner’s Office said two women, My Nhan, 65, and Lilan Li, 63, were among the dead. ABC News identified one of the deceased as dance instructor Ming Wei Ma.

Seven of the 10 wounded victims were still hospitalised on Sunday night, police said.

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

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

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

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 per cent of its residents are Asian, according to US Census data.

At the entrance to the Star Dance studio on Monday, residents left flowers, fruit and candles to honour the dead.

Mr Yashin Wang, 65, sat at a bus stop close to the crime scene on Monday. He said he had moved to Monterey Park from Dallas, Texas, two years ago because he had been told what a peaceful and friendly place the city was.

“It was nice,” he said.

Mr Wang said he planned to stay, but the massacre had saddened him and shaken his perception of his home. REUTERS

Members of the community in Monterey Park hold a prayer vigil near the scene of the shooting. PHOTO: REUTERS

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