Sheriff: Suspect in dance club shooting killed self in van

Jan 21, 2023, 11:54 AM | Updated: Jan 22, 2023, 8:58 pm
A forensic photographer takes pictures of a van's window and its contents in Torrance, Calif., Sund...

A forensic photographer takes pictures of a van's window and its contents in Torrance, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. A mass shooting took place at a dance club following a Lunar New Year celebration, setting off a manhunt for the suspect. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

MONTEREY PARK, Calif. (AP) — The hunt for a gunman who killed 10 people at a ballroom dance club during Lunar New Year celebrations ended Sunday when authorities found him dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound inside the van in which he fled after a second shooting was thwarted.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna identified the man as 72-year-old Huu Can Tran and said no other suspects were at large. Speaking at an evening news conference, Luna said the motive for the attack remained unclear. Ten people were also wounded, seven of whom were still in the hospital.

Luna did not have the exact ages of the victims but said they all appeared to be over 50.

The sheriff added that the suspect was carrying what he described as a semi-automatic pistol with an extended magazine, and a second handgun was discovered in the van where Tran was found dead.

The shooting late Saturday in the predominantly Asian American community of Monterey Park sent a wave of fear through Asian American communities in the Los Angeles area. The city planned two days of festivities, which have been attended by as many as 100,000 people in past years, but officials canceled Sunday’s events following the shooting. Other cities sent extra officers to watch over the celebrations.

Earlier Sunday, law enforcement officials surrounded the van for hours before swarming and entering the vehicle. A person’s body appeared to be slumped over the wheel and was later removed from the vehicle.

Luna said the shooting was at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park.

Monterey Park Police Chief Scott Wiese said Sunday evening that officers arrived within three minutes of receiving the call. They found carnage inside the club and people trying to flee through all the doors.

“When they came into the parking lot, it was chaos,” Wiese said.

About 20 to 30 minutes after the first attack, the gunman entered the Lai Lai Ballroom in nearby Alhambra. But people there wrested the weapon away from him and he fled, according to Luna.

He said authorities began looking for a white van after witnesses reported seeing the suspect flee from Alhambra in such a vehicle.

During the search, Luna released images from the second location of an Asian man who was believed to be the suspect, apparently from a surveillance camera.

The van was found in Torrance, another community that is home to many Asian Americans, about 22 miles (34.5 kilometers) from the site of the attempted second shooting.

Also speaking at the news conference, Congresswoman Judy Chu said she still has questions about the attack but hopes residents now feel safe.

“The community was in fear thinking that they should not go to any events because there was an active shooter,” Chu said, adding, “You are no longer in danger.”

“What was the motive for this shooter?” she said. “Did he have a mental illness? Was he a domestic violence abuser? How did he gets these guns and was it through legal means or not?”

The massacre was the nation’s fifth mass killing this month. It was also the deadliest attack since May 24, when 21 people were killed in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

An Associated Press/USA Today database on mass killings in the U.S. shows that 2022 was one of the nation’s worst years with 42 such attacks — the second-highest number since the creation of the tracker in 2006. The database defines a mass killing as four people killed, not including the perpetrator.

Monterey Park is a city of about 60,000 people on the eastern edge of Los Angeles and is composed mostly of Asian immigrants from China or first-generation Asian Americans. The shooting happened in the heart of its downtown, where red lanterns decorated the streets for the Lunar New Year festivities. A police car was parked near a large banner that proclaimed “Happy Year of the Rabbit!”

The Star Ballroom Dance Studio is a few blocks from city hall on Monterey Park’s main thoroughfare, Garvey Avenue, which is dotted with strip malls with signs are in both English and Chinese. The business offered dance lessons from tango to rumba to the fox trot, and rented its space for events. On Saturday, its website said, it was hosting an event called “Star Night” from 8 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.

Tony Lai, 35, of Monterey Park was stunned when he came out for his early morning walk to learn that the noises he heard in the night were gunshots.

“I thought maybe it was fireworks. I thought maybe it had something to do with Lunar New Year,” he said. “And we don’t even get a lot of fireworks here. It’s weird to see this. It’s really safe here. We’re right in the middle of the city, but it’s really safe.”

Wynn Liaw, 57, who lives about two blocks from the Monterey Park dance studio, said she was especially shocked that such a crime would happen during New Year’s celebrations.

“Chinese people, they consider Chinese New Year very, very special” — a time when “you don’t do anything that will bring bad luck the entire year,” she said.

She took a picture of the activity outside the studio to send to relatives and friends in China “to let them know how crazy the U.S. is becoming with all these mass shootings, even in the New Year.”

President Joe Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland were briefed on the situation, aides said. Biden said he and first lady Jill Biden were thinking of those killed and wounded, and he directed federal authorities to support the investigation.

___

Associated Press writer Julie Watson in San Diego contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Sheriff: Suspect in dance club shooting killed self in van