California mass shooting motive remains a mystery

MONTEREY PARK, Calif. () — Investigators searched a gunman’s home Sunday night for a motive after he killed 10 people at a Los Angeles-area ballroom dance club during a Lunar New Year celebration.

The suspect, 72-year-old Huu Can Tran, was found Sunday, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a van in which authorities say he fled after people thwarted his attempt at a second shooting Saturday night. No other suspects were at large, Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said.

The massacre was the nation’s fifth mass killing this month. It was also the deadliest attack since May 24, when 21 people were killed in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

Monterey Park Mayor Henry Lo spoke with Monday morning, saying they are still trying to determine the motivation behind the attack. He said there has been some speculation about why he targeted the ballroom. 

“I understand that he met his ex-wife here 20 years ago, and he was a frequent attendee at the dance hall. But unfortunately, no, we still don’t fully know the motivation for him to do what he did during the Lunar New Year’s celebration,” Lo said.

Police said the 72-year-old entered the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park and opened fire, killing five men and five women. He also injured 10 others, seven of them were still in the hospital Monday morning.

Luna said he didn’t have the exact ages of the victims but that all of the people killed appeared to be over 50.

Monterey Park Police Chief Scott Wiese said Sunday evening that officers arrived at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park within three minutes of receiving the call. There, they found carnage inside and people trying to flee through all the doors.

“When they came into the parking lot it, was chaos,” Wiese said.

About 20 to 30 minutes after the first attack, the gunman entered the Lai Lai Ballroom in the nearby city of Alhambra in a second attempt at a mass shooting. However, people wrested the weapon away from him and witnesses said he fled in a white van, according to Luna.

“They saved lives. This could have been much worse,” Luna said.

The suspect carried what Luna described as a semi-automatic pistol with an extended magazine. Police discovered a second handgun in the van where Tran died.

The van was found in Torrance, another community home to many Asian Americans, about 22 miles from that second location.

After surrounding the vehicle for hours, law enforcement officials swarmed and entered it. A person’s body appeared to be slumped over the wheel and was later removed. Members of a SWAT team looked through the van’s contents before walking away.

The sheriff’s department earlier released photos of an Asian man believed to be the suspect, apparently taken from a security camera.

Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), who represents Monterey Park, worked to reassure her community that the threat was over and the Lunar New Year could move forward in peace. She said she still has questions about the attack but hopes residents now feel safe.

“The community was in fear thinking that they should not go to any events because there was an active shooter,” Chu said, speaking at Sunday’s news conference.

“What was the motive for this shooter?” she said. “Did he have a mental illness? Was he a domestic violence abuser? How did he gets these guns and was it through legal means or not?”

Monterey Park, a city of about 60,000 people on the eastern edge of Los Angeles, is composed mostly of Asian immigrants from China or first-generation Asian Americans. The shooting happened in the heart of its downtown where red lanterns decorated the streets for the Lunar New Year festivities. A police car was parked near a large banner that proclaimed “Happy Year of the Rabbit!”

“We’re resilient,” Lo said. He said it is understandable that the community is rattled following the attack because they have been dealing with issues of violence against Asian Americans for years now.

“Moving forward, I want the community to be reassured that their police department is out to protect their neighborhoods and families and that we will get through this together,” Lo said.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom visited Monterey Park on Sunday, meeting with victims and their families as well as local officials.

President Joe Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland were briefed on the situation, aides said. Biden said he and first lady Jill Biden were thinking of those killed and wounded.

“We have a crisis resource center that is there to help the victims or families cope as well as those communities who right now need assistance to deal with the trauma,” Lo said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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