MONTEREY PARK, CA – Authorities were searching for a motive for a gunman who killed 10 people at a Los Angeles ballroom dance club during a Lunar New Year celebration, killings that sent waves of fear through Asian-American communities and cast a shadow over celebrations across the country.
The suspect is 72 years old Huu Kang Chan, was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound Sunday in the van that authorities say he was fleeing from after attempting to attack a second dance hall. The mayor of Monterey Park said Tran may have attended the first dance hall he targeted.
The massacre was the nation’s fifth mass killing this month, and it came as one of California’s biggest celebrations of the holiday celebrated in many Asian cultures, dealing another blow to a community that has been the target of high-profile violence in recent years.
It was also the deadliest attack since May 24, when 21 people were killed at an elementary school in Uwald, Texas.
Law enforcement officials said the rampage could have been even more deadly. A man whose family runs the other dance hall confronted the gunman in the lobby and wrestled his gun from him.
Authorities say little about Chan.
“We understand that he may have attended this dance hall in the past and that the motivation may be related to some personal relationship. But I think that’s something that investigators are still figuring out and investigating,” said Monterey Park Mayor Henry Law. Public records show Tran once had addresses in the city and surrounding areas.
But Los Angeles County Mayor and Sheriff Robert Luna stressed that the motive for the attack, which also injured 10 people, remains unclear. Speaking at a news conference Sunday night, Luna said all those killed were over 50. There are no other suspects at large, the sheriff said.
The suspect was carrying what Luna described as a semi-automatic handgun with an extended magazine, and a second handgun was found in the van where Tran died.
Officers arrived at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park within three minutes of receiving the call, Monterey Park Police Chief Scott Wiese said.
There they found carnage inside and people trying to escape through all the doors.
“When they got to the parking lot, it was chaos,” Wiese said.
About 20 minutes after the first attack, a gunman entered the Lai Lai ballroom in the nearby town of Alhambra.
Brandon Tsai was in the lobby at the time and told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that he thought he was going to die.
“Something came over me. I realized that I have to take his weapon, I have to take this weapon, disarm him, otherwise everyone would die,” Tsai said. “When I got up the courage, I threw myself at him with both hands, grabbed the weapon, and we had a fight.”
As soon as Tsai grabbed the gun, he pointed it at the man and yelled, “Get out of here, I’m going to shoot, get out, get out!”
The gunman paused, but then headed back to his van, and Tsai called the police, still holding the gun.
While Luna told reporters Sunday that two men wrested the gun from the gunman, Tsai, who works several days a week at the dance hall opened by his grandparents, told The New York Times that he acted alone. Footage from the footage shown on Good Morning America showed only two men struggling for a gun.
The suspect’s white van was found in Torrance, another Asian-American community.
After surrounding the vehicle for several hours, the representatives of the law enforcement agencies rushed to it. The man’s body appeared to be lowered onto the wheel and then removed. Members of the SWAT team inspected the contents of the van before leaving.
Congresswoman Judy Chu said she still has questions about the attack, but hopes residents feel safe now.
“The community was scared, thinking they shouldn’t go to any events because there was an active shooter,” Chu said Sunday at a news conference.
“What was the motive of this shooter?” she said. “Did he have a mental illness? Was he a domestic abuser? How did he get these weapons and legally or not?”
Monterey Park is a city of about 60,000 people on the eastern edge of Los Angeles, made up mostly of Asian immigrants from China or first-generation Asian Americans. The shooting took place in the very center of the city, where red lanterns decorated the streets to celebrate the Lunar New Year. A police car was parked near a large banner reading “Happy Year of the Rabbit!”
The celebration in Monterey Park is one of the largest in California. Two days of festivities were planned, which in previous years were visited by up to 100,000 people. But officials canceled Sunday’s events after the shooting.
The Associated Press/USA Today database of mass murders in the U.S. shows 2022 was one of the nation’s worst years, with 42 such attacks, the second-highest number since the tracker began in 2006. The database defines a mass murder as four people killed, not counting the perpetrators.
Associated Press reporters Andrew Dalton, Jae S. Hong and Eugene Garcia in Los Angeles and Julie Watson in San Diego contributed to this report.
ABC News contributed to this report.
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