Andy Kao had just turned his partner during an upbeat number at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio when a gunman walked in.
Shally, a friend who had danced with him for 15 years, said that two-second move during a jive dance saved her life. But it cost Kao his.
Days after the mass shooting in Monterey Park, people who knew 72-year-old Yu-Lun Kao – known simply as “Andy” – remembered the dance aficionado as a kind person.
“His nickname was ‘Mr. Nice,’ ” said Shally’s husband, Francois.
“He was very nice to everybody,” said Francois, who asked that his last name not be published. “Some people go to the studio but they don’t know how to dance. He liked to help whoever needed help.”
Originally from Taiwan, Kao moved to California about 20 years ago, his brother, Alan Kao, told the New York Times. Yu-Lun “Andy” Kao held dual citizenship from the U.S. and Taiwan, according to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Los Angeles. He worked as a construction contractor, public records show.
Kao was single and lived by himself in an apartment in South El Monte, where he was the only Asian tenant surrounded by Latino neighbors, and where he routinely played the saxophone in the evening, Vianeth Tellez, the apartment manager, said in an interview.
“He lived here for at least 15 years and was very friendly,” she said in Spanish. “Even those he couldn’t speak to (in Spanish,) he always greeted them.”
Margarita Catalan, another long-time tenant, was one of several who called him “una buena persona” – “a good person.”
“He was always very respectful and calm. And I loved to hear him on his saxophone,” Catalan said.
Playing an instrument may have been a strong interest, but “dancing was his passion,” according to his friend, Francois.
Kao practiced at different dance studios. Last fall, a friend introduced him to the Evie Dance Studio in Pomona, where the crowd is predominantly Latino. Kao wanted to learn how to dance bachata and “street salsa,” which is less regimented than ballroom salsa.
“At first, he was coming once a week. Then he was coming three or four times a week,” said Evie Quinones, the studio’s owner.
“He was a very smart man. He learned very fast,” she said. “He wanted to learn so if he goes to any venue or any club other than a dance studio, he could do the steps and lead the ladies correctly,” Quinones said.
Francois, who asked that his last name not be published, stands inside his Arcadia Donuts shop in Arcadia, California, on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023. He’s holding a poster featuring a photo of his wife, Shally, and her dance partner Yu-Lun “Andy” Kao, who died during a mass shooting at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park. Shally survived. (Photo by Roxana Kopetman, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Yu-Lun Kao, 72, was identified as one of the 11 victims of the Monterey Park mass shooting. (Courtesy of GoFundMe via Francois Ung) https://www.gofundme.com/f/mr-nice?qid=96fa491970164128896026af941088af
Yu-Lun “Andy” Kao with his friends, Francois and Shally out for dinner in this undated photo. Kao was one of 11 people who died in a shooting massacre at a dance studio in Monterey Park, California on Jan. 21, 2023. Shally, his dance partner of 15 years, survived the shooting. Shally and her husband Francois are holding a fundraiser at their Arcadia Donuts shop, with all proceeds slated for Kao’s funeral. The fundraiser continues through Saturday morning, Jan. 28.
A heart with personal messages for shooting victim Yu-Lun Kao, 72, is seen at a makeshift memorial outside the Monterey Park Civic Center in Monterey Park, Wednesday afternoon Jan. 25, 2023 for the 11 killed at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio Saturday night. (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)
The fatal mass shooting in Monterey Park on Jan. 21, 2023, happened at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio. (Brian Rokos, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Eric Sham visits a makeshift memorial on Tuesday, January 24, 2023 for those killed in a mass shooting at The Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
People console each other during a memorial for the mass shooting victims outside the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, Wednesday, Jan 25, 2023. A gunman killed eleven people and injured nine others at the dance studio after a Lunar New Year Festival near by on on January 21. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
Flowers and candles honor the victims at Monterey Park’s City Hall on Jan. 23, 2023. (Photo by Emily Holshouser/Southern California News Group)
Vice President Kamala Harris visits the makeshift memorial at the Monterey Park mass shooting site at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio on Wednesday, January 25, 2023. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
South El Monte resident Yu-Lun “Andy” Kao and his long-time dance partner, Shally. Kao, 72, died during a mass shooting at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park on Jan. 21. Shally survived. (Photo courtesy of Francois, Shally’s husband. The couple asked that their last name not be published.)
Kao tended to appear serious, she said, “because he was concentrating.”
“He always wore black: black pants, black shirt, black jacket and his black beanie. Once, after New Year’s, he came to the studio wearing a beautiful grey sweater and it got my attention because he always wore black. I told him, ‘You look handsome with that sweater.’ He gave me a little bit of a smile and kept going. He was a little embarrassed.”
“He had a routine when he walked in: say hello, go to a chair, do his stretches and then switch to dancing shoes.
“He always carried his dancing shoes.”
While he was seen as more serious at the newer studio, Francois said that with his close friends he was quick to laugh and enjoyed good conversations.
When Francois, not a dancer, and Shally, a devout dancer, married three years ago, she stipulated she loved to dance and wanted to continue with her long-time dance partner, Kao. “So I checked him out and he was a very nice guy,” said Francois, who also became friends with Kao.
Kao was a long-time regular at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, where he was attending a Lunar New Year party Jan. 21. That night, a gunman shot 20 people, killing 11, before attempting to strike a second time at the Lai Lai Ballroom & Studio in Alhambra, according to police. Brandon Tsay, 26, whose family owns the Alhambra studio, disarmed the gunman, Huu Can Tran, during a struggle.
The following morning, police found Tran parked in Torrance, where they engaged in a standoff. He killed himself inside the van he was driving, according to authorities.
Francois and Shally are still processing what happened the night of Jan. 21.
Shally was dancing the jive with Kao when she first heard what she thought were firecrackers. Others in the salon – decorated with Chinese New Year balloons and trinkets – were line dancing.
In a Gofundme page he set up, Francois wrote that Kao “protected my wife by taking the bullet for her.” In an interview, he clarified that the couple believes it was Kao’s dance move at the exact time that the gunman began shooting in the room that saved her but struck him instead.
Shally dragged her dance partner under a table so they could both take cover, her husband said. From there, “she saw him reloading the gun,” he continued.
“That’s why she told Andy don’t make any noise. ‘Don’t make a sound. Don’t make a sound, just lay down,’” Francois said, recounting what Shally had told Kao as he tried to speak.
“She closed her eyes and she told me she prayed.”
After the shooter left, Shally said she tried to “wake up my partner, ‘Wake up. Wake up.’ He don’t respond at all,” she told ABC News. Then she saw blood on her hands. “Am I got shot?… I was yelling too loud, ‘Am I got shot?”
Shally declined to be interviewed, saying she had spoken with TV crews and needed time away from the national media that has swarmed Monterey Park and its neighboring communities.
“She needs time,” Francois said. “Me too. I need time to process it.”
“Both of us are trying to not cry in front of each other. If one cries, the other starts crying. We’re both trying to stay strong for each other.”
In the meantime, wanting to do something for their friend Andy, the couple held on Thursday the first of a three-day fundraiser at their Arcadia Donuts shop in Arcadia. All proceeds, added to the GoFundMe page they set up, will go toward paying for Kao’s funeral, Francois said.
The donut fundraiser was a success.
“The first customer said, ‘I want everything,’” Francois recounted Thursday morning of a customer that bought every donut within sight to take back to police and fire stations.
A second batch of donuts in the back quickly sold next.
Community members poured in Thursday morning to support the couple’s quest to do something nice – for the dancer known as “Mr. Nice.”