The death toll in Saturday’s mass shooting at a dance studio in Monterey Park, California, rose to 11 on Monday as investigators searched the gunman’s background for an explanation as to the massacre.
Authorities initially said 10 people were killed in the shooting at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio and that 10 were hospitalized. The LAC+USC Medical Center, which treated four of the 10 wounded, said Monday that one had died from their injuries.
All of the victims – five men and six women – were over the age of 50, and three were over 70 years old, according to the Los Angeles County coroner’s office.
Four of the victims were identified as My Nhan, a 65-year-old woman; Lilan Li, a 63-year-old woman; Xiujuan Yu, a 57-year-old woman; and Valentino Alvero, a 68-year-old man, the office said. The other victims were described as two women in their 60s, a woman in her 70s, a man in his 60s and three men in their 70s, the office said.
The deaths comes as investigators pore into the history of the 72-year-old gunman, Huu Can Tran, who opened fire on revelers celebrating Lunar New Year in the majority-Asian American city.
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Afterward, Tran went to another dance studio in nearby Alhambra, but was tackled and disarmed by a civilian. He fled the scene and police found him a day later in a white van about 30 miles away in Torrance, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The bloody whirlwind transformed one of the most auspicious days of the calendar for Asian Americans into a day of unfathomable tragedy, yet still one which could have been even deadlier.
There are as yet few clues as to the motivation of the shooter, an elderly Chinese immigrant described as having an interest in dance and a hot temper.
In carrying out the attack, he used a semi-automatic assault pistol with an extended large-capacity magazine, authorities said. A law enforcement official told CNN it was a Cobray M11 9 mm semi-automatic weapon. The weapon, which had been disarmed at the Alhambra dance studio, was traced to the suspect, giving authorities his name and description.
CNN is working to learn more about each of the victims. Nhan, known as “Mymy,” loved to dance and spent many years at the dance studio where she was killed, according to a statement from her family. Nhan was a “loving aunt, sister, daughter and friend” and was the family’s “biggest cheerleader,” the family said.
Tiffany Liou, a reporter for CNN affiliate WFAA in Dallas, told CNN and also posted on Twitter that Nhan was her husband’s aunt. “Mymy treated her nieces/nephews like her own kids,” Liou wrote on Twitter. “Her kindness is what’s needed in this world.”
The massacre, one of at least 36 mass shootings in the US so far this month, particularly targeted members of the Asian community, who have faced a surge of deadly attacks and harassment since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. About 65% of residents in Monterey Park are of Asian descent and some 100,000 people from across Southern California typically turn out for Lunar New Year celebrations.
“We’ve been on edge the last few years as Covid rose and impacted our communities, and the rise of Asian hate in our communities as well,” Monterey Park City Council Member Thomas Wong told CNN. “And to deal with this on top of that — for our local community — has just been tremendously tragic.”
Authorities are working to put together pieces of Tran’s life to understand how he came to the point of mass violence.
In his white van in Torrance, investigators found a handgun as well as “several pieces of evidence” linking him to the Monterey Park and Alhambra dance studios, Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said.
The sheriff’s department also obtained a search warrant for Tran’s home in The Lakes at Hemet West, a senior community about 80 miles east of Monterey Park, a Hemet Police spokesperson confirmed.
Hemet Police also said Tran had visited their office two weeks ago and made serious allegations of wrongdoing.
“Tran visited the Hemet Police Department lobby on January 7 and 9, 2023, alleging past fraud, theft, and poisoning allegations involving his family in the Los Angeles area 10 to 20 years ago,” police said in a statement. “Tran stated he would return to the station with documentation regarding his allegations but never returned.”
Tran had once been a familiar face at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio, where he gave informal dance lessons, three people who knew him told CNN. But it’s not clear how often he visited in recent years, if at all.
He even met his ex-wife there about two decades ago after he saw her at a dance, introduced himself and offered her free lessons, the ex-wife said. The two married soon after they met, she said. She asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the case.
Tran worked as a truck driver at times, she said. He was an immigrant from China, according to a copy of his marriage license she showed to CNN.
And Tran had a hot temper, his ex-wife and others said.
While he was never violent to her, the ex-wife said, Tran would get upset if she missed a step dancing because he felt it made him look bad.
He filed for divorce in late 2005, and a judge approved the divorce the following year, Los Angeles court records show.
Another longtime acquaintance of Tran also remembered him as a regular patron of the dance studio. The friend, who also asked not to be named, was close to Tran in the late 2000s and early 2010s, when he said Tran would come to the dance studio “almost every night” from his home in nearby San Gabriel.
At that time, Tran often complained that the instructors at the dance hall didn’t like him and said “evil things about him,” the friend recalled. He said Tran was “hostile to a lot of people there.”
More generally, Tran was easily irritated, complained a lot and didn’t seem to trust people, the friend said.
Tran’s friend was “totally shocked” when he heard about the shooting, he said, noting he hadn’t seen Tran in several years.
The massacre could have been more deadly if not for the efforts of at least one civilian.
Police first responded to the Monterey Park dance studio at about 10:20 p.m. and found a chaotic and bloody scene, city police chief Scott Wiese said. The killer had inflicted “extensive” carnage and then fled, he said.
A few miles away in Alhambra, Brandon Tsay was working the ticket office of the Lai Lai Ballroom & Studio when the same gunman entered the business his family had owned for three generations. He knew the man was trouble.
“From his body language, his facial expression, his eyes, he was looking for people,” Tsay told The New York Times.
“He was looking at me and looking around, not hiding that he was trying to do harm,” he said. “His eyes were menacing.”
The gunman pointed a semi-automatic weapon at Tsay – the first gun he had seen in real life, he told the Times.
“My heart sank,” he said, “I knew I was going to die.”
Tsay sprung into action and attacked the man, he told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“When I got the courage, I lunged at him with both my hands, grabbed the weapon and we had a struggle,” Tsay said. “We struggled into the lobby, trying to get this gun away from each other.”
They struggled for about a minute and a half and Tsay eventually wrested the weapon from the gunman, he told the Times.
Once Tsay gained control of the gun, he told the Times, he pointed it back at the suspect and yelled for him to “get the hell out of here.” The man fled, and Tsay called the police.
Authorities praised Tsay’s efforts as heroic and said he had prevented further disaster. Sheriff Luna said there were two people who disarmed the man.
“They saved lives. This could’ve been much worse,” he said.