Mass shooting in Monterey Park, CA: authorities are looking for a motive

Little is known about the 72-year-old suspect, who was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

MONTEREY PARK, Calif. — The search for the motive behind the shooting massacre at a ballroom dance hall in the Los Angeles area led police to a trailer home community as they investigated the 72-year-old suspect’s past on Monday and his relationship with the club.

Meanwhile, the death toll rose to 11 after health officials said one of the 10 wounded had died.

Suspect Huu Can Tran, who was found dead Sunday from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, had called police in his town of Hemet twice this month to claim he was a victim of fraud, theft and poisoning by family members aged between 10 and 20 years in the LA area, spokesman Alan Reyes told The Associated Press. Tran said he would return to the station with paperwork, but never did.

Tran was found dead in the van he fled from after attempting to attack a second dance hall, authorities said. The Mayor of Monterey Park said Tran may have attended the first dance hall he targeted, and his ex-wife told CNN she met him there and he offered her free lessons.

All but one of the victims were 60 or older, according to information released Monday by the Los Angeles coroner’s office, which provided the initial identifications.

My Nhan, 65, and Lilian Li, 63, were the first two women to be named. Two other women were in their 60s and one was in their 50s. Three men were in their 70s and two in their 60s were also killed.

Officials did not disclose an age for the 11th death, which was announced by the LA County Department of Health Services.

Authorities have said little about Tran.

Los Angeles Superior Court records show that Tran was married in 2001 and divorced five years later, citing irreconcilable differences. The couple had no children, said they had no common property and neither side had to pay child support.

In the uncontested case, Tran noted in a filing that he could not leave work to attend court hearings, although he did not disclose where he worked or what he did.

His ex-wife told CNN they got married shortly after they met. Although she is named in court documents, she asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the case.

She said he would get upset if she missed a step dance, but was never violent with her.

Tran eventually moved out of the San Gabriel Valley, a melting pot for Asian immigrants, and settled in Hemet, 75 miles east of Los Angeles in Riverside County, in a trailer community for those 55 and older. The police searched his apartment there on Sunday evening.

Hemet Police had no record of any incidents involving Tran in the community or calls for service at his home, Reyes said.

The shootings during the Lunar New Year celebrations were broadcast a wave of fear through the Asian-American communities and cast a shadow over celebrations across the country.

The massacre marked the nation’s fifth mass murder this month, and it struck one of California’s biggest holiday celebrations observed across many Asian cultures, and dealt another blow to a community that has been the target of high-profile violence in recent years.

It was also the deadliest attack since May 24, when 21 people were killed at an elementary school Uvalde, Texas.

Police officials said the killing spree could have been even deadlier. A man whose family runs the second dance hall confronted the attacker in the lobby and snatched the gun, The New York Times reported.

“We understand that he may have attended this dance hall in the past and perhaps the motivation has to do with some personal relationships. But this is something I believe investigators are still uncovering and investigating,” said Monterey Park Mayor Henry Lo. Public records show that Tran once had addresses in the city and neighboring towns.

LA County Mayor and Sheriff Robert Luna said the motive for the attack, which also injured 10 people, remains unclear. According to the sheriff, no other suspects were at large.

The suspect was carrying what Luna described as a semi-automatic pistol with an extended magazine, and a second pistol was discovered in the van where Tran died.

Tran is the second oldest mass murderer in the US in the last nearly 20 years a database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University. The only senior mass killer was a 73-year-old who murdered five people in Yuma County, Arizona, in 2011 before killing himself. The database tracks every mass murder – defined as four dead without the perpetrator – committed in the United States since 2006.

According to Monterey Park Police Chief Scott Wiese, 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 escape through all the doors.

“When they got to the parking lot, there was chaos,” said Wiese.

About 20 minutes after the initial attack, the gunman entered the Lai Lai ballroom in the nearby city of Alhambra.

Brandon Tsay was in the lobby at the time and told ABC’s Good Morning America that he thought he was dying.

“Something came over me. I realized I had to take the gun away from him, I had to take that gun, disarm him or everyone would have died,” Tsay said. “When I had the courage, I lunged at him with both hands and grabbed his gun and we had a fight.”

As Tsay grabbed the gun, he pointed it at the man and yelled, “Get out of here, I’m shooting, get out, go!”

The attacker paused but then walked back to his van and Tsay called the police, gun still in hand.

While Luna told reporters Sunday that two people snatched the gun from the attacker, Tsay, who works a few days a week at the dance club founded by his grandparents, told the New York Times he acted alone. Stills from security footage shown on Good Morning America showed only the two men fighting over the gun.

The suspect’s white van was found in Torrance, another community populated by many Asian Americans.

After surrounding the vehicle for hours, police officers fanned out and entered. One person’s body appeared to have slumped over the wheel and was later removed. Members of a SWAT team searched the contents of the van before walking away.

Monterey Park is a city of about 60,000 people on the eastern edge of Los Angeles and is made up primarily of Asian immigrants from China or first-generation Asian Americans. The shooting took place in the heart of downtown, where red lanterns adorned the streets for the Lunar New Year celebrations. A police car was parked near a large banner that read “Happy Year of the Rabbit!”

The celebration at Monterey Park is one of the largest in California. Two festival days were planned, which have been attended by up to 100,000 people in recent years. But officials canceled Sunday’s events after the shooting. Mass shooting in Monterey Park, CA: authorities are looking for a motive

Laura Coffey

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