US residents of 'very safe' Monterey Park stunned by mass CNY shooting

People come together as members of the community hold a prayer vigil near the scene of a shooting on Jan 22, 2023. PHOTO: REUTERS
Mourners near the scene where the gunman killed 10 people the night before, in Monterey Park, on Jan 22, 2023. PHOTO: NYTIMES
Local residents watch police investigate the mass shooting scene on Jan 22, 2023. PHOTO: AFP

MONTEREY PARK, United States – The Year of the Rabbit began in horror on Sunday for the inhabitants of Monterey Park, the largely Asian American suburb of Los Angeles where a mass shooting left 10 people dead.

In this city of 60,000 people, red lanterns and banners in Chinese characters celebrating Chinese New Year still fluttered over a roadway.

But around the dance hall where the shooting unfolded, yellow police tape and heavily armed policemen supplanted any sign of festivities.

“This kind of thing doesn’t happen here,” said Ms Wynn Liaw, a neighbour who came to this popular senior citizens’ venue after hearing news bulletins.

Ms Liaw, a 57-year-old retired veterinarian, has lived in Monterey Park for the past four decades.

She still finds it hard to believe that a massacre unfolded here, behind the white-and-green awning of the venue she passes daily to do her shopping.

“This is a very safe neighbourhood, where I can walk alone at night and where I don’t have to worry about gun violence,” she said as police helicopters whirred overhead.

Last Saturday night, a gunman entered the ballroom and killed five men and five women, and wounded at least 10 others, the authorities said.

The mass killing – the deadliest US shooting since the Uvalde massacre in May 2022, in which 19 children and two teachers were killed in an elementary school in Texas – took Monterey Park by surprise.

Just a few kilometres east of downtown Los Angeles, Monterey Park is considered the city’s “new Chinatown”.

Residents here read newspapers in Chinese, most business signs are in Chinese and the majority of the inhabitants approached by an AFP journalist did not speak English.

“This area is one of the safest neighbourhoods in Los Angeles county,” said Mr John McKinney, a local prosecutor in the sprawling Southern California metropolis.

“You don’t see much happening here,” added Mr Ken Nim, a 38-year-old IT worker walking his dog.

Mr Nim said that in the 20 years he has lived here, the only crime he had experienced was the theft of the catalytic converter from his car.

“It’s a really sad thing, this country is getting crazy,” Mr Nim said. “We saw mass shootings in a lot of different cities and in other states, but now it is coming to us.”

Mr David Kwan, a Malaysia-born security guard, appeared stunned by the shooting. “I’m often confronted with violence – but in other areas of Los Angeles,” Mr Kwan said. “It’s the first time that I see it in my own community.”

Boxes and trash are left near the scene of a shooting after a Chinese New Year celebration. PHOTO: REUTERS

Along the cordoned-off streets, inhabitants sought to make sense of the spasm of violence. On their phones, they saw photos of dead bodies lying on the ground in a room lit by multicoloured spotlights.

At first, many feared that it was a hate crime. But the Asian origin of the suspect, confirmed in the morning by the sheriff, has cast doubt on that interpretation.

“I feel like this is a personal story,” said Mr Jerry Liu, a 26-year-old truck driver, near the hundreds of white tents lined up at the Chinese New Year market.

A day earlier, thousands of people had crowded the main market site, between the meat skewer stands and the fairground.

“There’s a reason he targeted that ballroom. Otherwise, he could have gone to the fair earlier during the day and killed a lot more people,” Mr Liu said.

In front of the police cordon, Mr Chester Chong suggested a possible motive: the jealousy aroused in a man not invited to a party where his wife was enjoying herself.

“The problem is, we have so many guns in this country,” said Mr Chong, chairman of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles.

“It’s so easy to grab a gun and do something stupid.” AFP

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