As investigators combed Southern California for anything to help explain the deadliest U.S. mass shooting in months, more than 100 mourners gathered Monday night at a vigil in Monterey Park that served as a sober contrast to the season’s usual Lunar New Year celebrations.
Gathering in the small public park in front of the civic center, they stood silently absorbed in the grief that had brought them together. Strangers now linked in sorrow, they sought solace and solidarity in one another’s company and in the tacit belief that the aftermath of tragedy should not be experienced alone.
Chuching Wang, president of the Taiwan Benevolent Assn. of California and co-organizer of the vigil, said the idea for the gathering came after speaking with friends who described their frustration that a time of joy and family during the Lunar New Year had been overshadowed by the shooting. He felt it was better to gather together as a community.
“It’s kind of like part of the coping process,” he said.
Those gathered came to pay their respects to the 11 killed and nine wounded in Saturday night’s shooting at a Monterey Park dance studio and to join the grieving in the attack’s aftermath.
“There’s something about being with others who feel just as sad as you do,” said Enrique Hernandez, who had arrived on a bicycle. “You don’t feel so alone.”
He gripped the handlebars of his bike. “That man must have been so full of hate to walk inside a business and just shoot people like that.”
Hernandez stared up at the U.S. and California flags hanging at half-staff. A heart-shaped wreath of white roses stood between them. There were red balloons, bouquets of flowers, candles — and 11 blue hearts, cut from wood, lettered with a verse from the Gospel of Matthew.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Nearby, a woman spoke to a reporter. “This was so out of the blue,” she said. A man carried a hand-lettered sign that read: “The problem are guns.”
The violence at Star Ballroom Dance Studio, perpetrated by 72-year-old Huu Can Tran, was one of the worst mass shootings to take place in Los Angeles County and the deadliest in the U.S. since a gunman stormed an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, almost eight months ago, killing 19 children and two teachers.
Bundled up against the cold as temperatures dropped into the 50s, the mourners of Monterey Park started to arrive at twilight. Their presence was reminiscent of other commemorations held in the wake of other tragedies, each reflecting the unique character and heartache of their communities.
Their numbers grew. Bringing pets and children, they were young and old, representing a mix of backgrounds wishing to pay their respect to this predominantly Asian American community in the San Gabriel Valley.
Like Hernandez, they were trying to make sense of the senselessness of the killing.
“You never expected people to pass away before their new year,” said Johnson Chan, 66, of Monterey Park, who came to the vigil with his wife, Catherine.
Julie Zhu of Monterey Park described the shooting as a tragedy for not only the Chinese diaspora but also the larger Asian community.
We are all “focused on this tragedy,” said Zhu, who shared that she is of Japanese descent. Glancing around the crowd, she took solace in the turnout.
“I just want to show support for the community and to let them know they are not alone. … We will protect each other, and we will also just pray for each other, and we hope this community will end this kind of tragedy and we can live in peace.”
Alan Kobayashi, 65, of Eagle Rock acknowledged that investigators may never fully understand the motive of the gunman, who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a strip mall parking lot in Torrance. The dance studio shooting, he said, “makes you shiver, but I am so happy to see so many people.”
A little past 7 p.m., Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) addressed the crowd. She reminded the community to support the victims’ families and those in the hospital with serious injuries.
“Some are intubated,” she said. “Some are worried about their medical bills, some are worried about whether they can get their job back, and we in the community have to really help them.”
Affirming her faith in the city, she ended her comments on a note of strength.
“I know this community is resilient,” she said. “I know that we can get through this if we work together, and we are stronger when we work together. I know that together we will make it through this crisis.”
Later in the evening, news began to spread through the crowd of another massacre in Northern California, where at least seven people were killed in two related shootings in rural areas of Half Moon Bay.
Still sitting on his bike, Hernandez could only look down and shake his head.
“Too much bloodshed,” he said.