The landscape of carnage and courage from this weekend’s mass shooting in Monterey Park is becoming clearer but many questions remain unanswered as Tuesday dawns — and the community’s pain continues as the names of people killed in the attack are methodically released.
On Monday, as the death toll climbed by one, residents wept at a public vigil, an overnight search of the gunman’s home revealed a cache of ammunition and officials described the inexperienced police officers and one civilian who rushed toward peril to prevent more bloodshed after the attack on a crowded dance hall.
And as they continued journeying from triage to healing, the Monterey Park community learned the identities of four victims, celebrated one of the injured leaving the hospital and gathered for an evening vigil in front of City Hall.
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Yet, the motive remains unknown for why the shooter – identified Sunday as Huu Can Tran, 72, of Hemet – opened fire inside the Star Ballroom Dance Studio, in Monterey Park, attempted to kill others at another dancehall in Alhambra and then fled to Torrance before ultimately dying by suicide.
But a picture began to develop of a man who once frequented the Monterey Park dancehall, had apparent anger issues and was well-versed in weaponry.
During an overnight search of his home, after all, investigators found another weapon – the third gun to be identified – hundreds of rounds of ammunition and evidence that Tran was making firearm suppressants. Investigators also seized electronics.
Yet, in many ways, those details weren’t as important as a community in mourning.
Tran is dead. He shot himself Sunday morning, while inside a white van in a Torrance parking lot.
After one of his hospitalized victims succumbed Monday, 11 families now grieve. The small, but dedicated, Monterey Park police force is coping with their quiet community turning into a momentary warzone – not long after thousands had gathered downtown for a Lunar New Year celebration. And Monterey Park, as well as Southern California in general, continues mourning the largest mass shooting in Los Angeles County history.
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“This was a moment that was supposed to be a moment of celebration, not only for the (Asian American and Pacific Islander) community, but for many of us,” Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón said during a Monday afternoon press conference. “One individual with guns caused incredible tragedy.”
While the why of it all remains shrouded in mystery, the veil began to lift, albeit slightly, from the man behind the massacre.
Tran lived in The Lakes at Hemet West, a mobile home park on the eastern end of the Riverside County town.
He had a minimal criminal history, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna. Just a 1990 arrest for unlawfully possessing a firearm.
And his only apparent interaction with local police came two weeks before the shooting.
Tran visited the Hemet Police Department on Jan. 7 and Jan. 9, city spokesperson Alan Reyes said, and accused family members living in the Los Angeles area of fraud and theft – and trying to poison him at least a decade ago.
He said he would return with documentation, Reyes said. But he never did.
Inside his home, meanwhile, investigators found a rifle and containers containing so much ammunition that an exact count was not known as of Monday afternoon, Luna said.
During the search, Luna said, investigators also found “items that lead us to believe that he was manufacturing homemade firearm suppressors.”
That was all in addition to the two firearms he had on him during the shooting.
The minutiae of Tran’s path from Hemet to Monterey Park to Alhambra and, finally, Torrance – including how escaped the Star Ballroom and, after fleeing the other dancehall, traveled the 30 miles from east LA County to the South Bay – were still unclear.
Yet, he had apparently been to the Star Ballroom before.
Tran had been a regular there. He met his ex-wife there – by offering her informal dance lessons.
That’s according to the ex-wife, who spoke with CNN but asked to remain anonymous.
Tran had been known to have anger issues, she said, but was never violent toward her.
He filed for divorce in 2015, and it became final a year later.
When he returned to the Star Ballroom on Saturday night, while patrons celebrated the Year of the Rabbit, Tran unleashed a torrent. In all, Luna said, 42 rounds of ammunition were recovered, as well as an expanded-capacity magazine.
Officers responded within minutes of the first 911 calls arriving, around 10: 22 p.m., said Monterey Park police Chief Scott Wiese.
And that’s where, in a moment of terror, courage first revealed itself.
Among the department’s 77-member force, the first three to arrive were three female officers who had joined the force within the last year.
They “swam upstream” of the crowd fleeing the ballroom, trying to enter the building – well aware of what might meet them.
“I have 77 of the greatest human beings on the planet that work for me,” Wiese said Monday. “They will go into whatever danger they see in front of them to make sure our community is safe.”
By the time they entered, however, Tran was apparently already gone.
He was on his way to the Lai Lai Ballroom and Studio, in Alhambra. The trip is short, at only three miles.
But when Tran arrived, he met resistance – 26-year-old Brandon Tsay.
Tsay, according to Luna, was the one who disarmed Tran less than half an hour after the latter shot up the Monterey Park ballroom.
Tsay said he was at Lai Lai for a Lunar New Year performance. It was winding down, when he heard the front door open.
He saw a man, now known to be Tran, walk in with a gun.
“My first thought,” he told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Monday, “was I was going to die here, this is it.”
Instead, he acted.
Tsay, whose family runs the studio, told ABC that Tran was “looking around the room” as if he was “looking for targets.”
Tsay saw Tran prepping the weapon.
In a moment, he fought his fear – and lunged at Tran.
“I realized I needed to get the weapon away from him,” Tsay said. “I needed to take this weapon, disarm him or else everybody would have died.”
Tsay used his elbows to try to dislodge the gun from the man’s hands, he said.
Eventually, he managed to grab the weapon and point it at the man.
Unaware of Tran’s bloodbath shortly before, Tsay yelled at the man to leave.
“In my opinion,” Luna said about Tsay, “he saved many lives.”
By Sunday morning, Tran was in Torrance, where local police officers would pull him over, not far from the Del Amo Fashion Center.
And where Tran would shoot himself, ending the manhunt.
The following day, meanwhile, was about answers, the few that exist, the many that don’t and the continuing search to bridge the gaps.
“What drove a madman to do this?” Luna said during an afternoon press conference at the Hall of Justice in downtown Los Angeles. “We don’t know.”
And, as of Monday evening, the public still only officially knew the names of four of the 11 victims for whom it mourns:
My Nhan, 65; Lilan Li, 63; Xiujuan Yu, 58; and Valentino Alvero, 68.
The other victims are around the same age, with some in their 70s. Their identities remain private, Luna said, until their next of kin are notified.
At least one family, though, has received a salve.
“With tremendous gratitude to our heroic staff at LAC+USC Medical Center,” the county’s Department of Public Health said in a Monday afternoon statement, “we are pleased to share that one of the victims of the Monterey Park shooting – a 73-year-old female – has been discharged from our facility.”
For that family, overcoming the trauma can now begin.
But for those who knew the 11 who have died, the trauma will endure.
“There are (people) who are no longer with us anymore,” Luna said. “There are families who will never be the same, and we should remember them.”
And for Monterey Park as a whole, answers about why this tragedy befell the town will likely prove only a slight balm.
Instead, the pain will continue to sear long after.
Staff writers Mona Darwish, Sean Emery, Clara Harter, Emily Holshouser, Brian Rokos and Georgia Valdes contributed to this report. City News Service also contributed to this report.