California investigators scrambled on Monday to discover why a 72-year-old gunman killed 10 people in Los Angeles-area dance hall popular with older patrons of Asian descent before fatally shooting himself hours later.
The massacre, which took place on the Lunar New Year, one of the most festive events on the calendar for many Asians, was carried out on Saturday night by a man identified by police as Huu Can Tran, 72.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said on Sunday that “everything is on the table” in terms of motive for the shooting, which also wounded 10 others.
“We don’t know if this is specifically a hate crime defined by law, but who walks into a dance hall and guns down 20 people,” Luna said.
Officials worked into Monday trying to identify the 10 people Tran allegedly killed at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, about 7 miles (11 km) east of downtown Los Angeles. Another 10 people were wounded and seven remained hospitalized late Sunday.
Tran’s rampage could have been far worse. About 20 minutes after the shooting in Monterey Park, the suspect entered the Lai Lai Ballroom & Studio dance club in the neighboring city of Alhambra. There, Brandon Tsay, who operates the family-run dance hall, wrestled a weapon away from the shooter before he could get a shot off.
“That moment, it was primal instinct,” Tsay told the newspaper, saying that the gunman fled the scene after a 90-second struggle. “Something happened there. I don’t know what came over me.”
About 12 hours later, police officers in the city of Torrance, 20 miles southwest of Monterey Park, approached a white cargo van Tran was driving. As officers neared the van, they heard a single gun shot from inside as Tran killed himself.
Luna did not identify any of the victims but said the five men and five women appeared to be in their 50s, 60s and beyond. The sheriff said the pistol Tran used was likely illegal in California, where state laws ban any magazine holding more than 10 rounds.
“We want to know, we want to know how something this awful can happen,” Luna told reporters.
Local police have obtained a warrant to search Tran’s home in Hemet, California, about 80 miles east of Monterey Park, CNN reported.
The shooting took place during a two-day Chinese Lunar New Year celebration, when many streets in downtown Monterey Park were closed for festivities that draw thousands of people from across Southern California.
As news about the shooting spread, some in the tight-knit community of Monterey Park initially feared it was a hate crime targeting Asians. The city has for decades been a destination for immigrants from China. Around 65% of its residents are Asian, according to U.S. Census data.
Chester Chong, chairman of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles, described the city of about 60,000 people as a quiet, peaceful, beautiful place where everybody knows each other and helps each other.
“People were calling me last night, they were scared this was a hate crime,” Chong said at the scene.
The gunshots were mistaken by some for New Year fireworks, according to Tiffany Chiu, 30, who was celebrating at her parents’ home near the ballroom.
“A lot of older people live here, it’s usually really quiet,” she said. “This is not something you expect here.”