Gunman, 72, kills himself after shooting 10 dead at Chinese New Year party in US

Law enforcement personnel open the door of a van in Torrance, California, where the alleged suspect is believed to be holed up. PHOTO: AFP
LA country sheriff Robert Luna said that a “tactical incident” was under way. PHOTO: REUTERS
Investigators go through a white van which police reported was connected with the mass shooting, on Jan 23, 2023. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Police work near the scene of the mass shooting in Monterey Park, California, on Jan 22, 2023. PHOTO: AFP
Flowers are seen near the location of the shooting. PHOTO: REUTERS
Emergency responders assisting a person to an ambulance following a shooting at Monterey Park, California, on Jan 22, 2023. PHOTO: REUTERS
Emergency responders at the shooting scene in Monterey Park, California, on Jan 22, 2023. PHOTO: REUTERS

TORRANCE, United States - A 72-year-old gunman killed himself when approached by police on Sunday, about 12 hours after he had carried out a Chinese New Year massacre at a dance club that left 10 people dead and 10 wounded.

The gunman tried to carry out another shooting at a separate club just minutes after the first one on Saturday night but two bystanders wrestled the man’s weapon away from him before any shots could be fired. He fled that scene.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna identified the suspect as Huu Can Tran, a septuagenarian who used a high-capacity magazine pistol to shoot up a ballroom dance venue popular with older patrons in Monterey Park, about 11km east of downtown Los Angeles. 

Investigators scrambled on Monday to discover why the gunman opened fire at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park.

Mr Luna said the reasons behind the Chinese New Year massacre on Saturday night remained elusive.

Officials worked into Monday trying to identify the 10 people Tran killed. Another 10 people were wounded and seven remained hospitalised late on Sunday, with at least one person in critical condition.

Mr 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 sheriff said the pistol Tran used appeared to be illegal in California, where state laws ban any magazine holding more than 10 rounds. “We want to know, we want to know how something this awful can happen,” Mr Luna told reporters.

After Tran carried out the shooting in Monterey Park at about 10pm on Saturday (2pm on Sunday, Singapore time), he was confronted by bystanders at a second dance club in the neighbouring city of Alhambra about 20 minutes later, Mr Luna said. 

“I can tell you that the suspect walked in there, probably with the intent to kill more people, and two brave community members decided they were going to jump into action and disarm him.”  

The sheriff said that Tran turned a handgun on himself on Sunday as police approached a white van he was driving in Torrance, about 34km from the site of the shooting at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park.

Officers heard a single gunshot from the van as they approached, then fell back and called for a Swat team.

“The suspect sustained a self-inflicted gunshot wound and was pronounced dead at the scene,” Mr Luna said.

The mass shooting took place around the location of a two-day Chinese New Year celebration where many downtown streets are closed for festivities that draw thousands of people from across Southern California.

Residents stood gazing at the many blocks sealed off with police tape on Sunday in Monterey Park.

Mr Chester Chong, chairman of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles, described the city of about 60,000 people as a quiet, peaceful, beautiful place where everybody knows and helps one another.

The city has for decades been a destination for immigrants from China. Around 65 per cent of its residents are Asian, according to US Census data, and the city is known for its many Chinese restaurants and groceries.

“People were calling me last night, they were scared this was a hate crime,” Mr Chong said at the scene.

Local residents watch police investigate the mass shooting scene in Monterey Park, California, on Jan 22, 2023. PHOTO: AFP

The Star Ballroom Dance Studio opened in 1990, and its website features many photographs of past Chinese New Year celebrations showing patrons smiling and dancing in party clothes in its large, brightly lit ballroom.

Most of its patrons are middle-aged or seniors, though children also attend youth dance classes, according to a teacher at the studio who asked not to be named.

“Those are normal working people,” the teacher said. “Some are retired and just looking for exercise or social interaction.”

A flier posted on the website advertised Saturday night’s New Year party, running from 7.30pm to 12.30am.

The gunshots were mistaken by some for New Year fireworks, according to Ms 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.”

US President Joe Biden tweeted that he and his wife Jill were “praying for those killed and injured in last night’s deadly mass shooting in Monterey Park”, adding: “I’m monitoring this situation closely.”

He ordered all US flags at public buildings to be flown at half-mast until sunset on Jan 26 to honour the victims.

The shooting was the deadliest in the US since a shooter in Uvalde, Texas, killed 21 people at an elementary school last May.

Investigators work at the scene of a mass shooting in Monterey Park, California, on Jan 22, 2023. PHOTO: AFP

Hate crime?

Officials said detectives were reviewing surveillance video and did not yet know whether the suspect was targeting a particular group.

The US Department of Justice said there were over 7,000 reported hate crimes in the US in 2021, two-thirds of them race-related.

Gun violence is a huge problem in the US, which in 2022 saw 647 mass shootings with at least four people shot or killed by a shooter, according to the Gun Violence Archive website.

In addition to the California shooting, 12 more people were injured in a shooting at a nightclub overnight in Louisiana, local media reported.

More than 44,000 people died from gunshot wounds in 2022 across the US, more than half of which were suicides. REUTERS, AFP

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