The death toll from Saturday’s mass shooting at a dance studio in Monterey Park, California, rose to 11 on Monday as investigators looked into the gunman’s background for an explanation for the massacre.
Authorities initially said 10 people were killed and 10 others were hospitalized in the Star Ballroom shooting. LAC+USC Medical Center, which treated four of the 10 wounded, said Monday that one died from his injuries.
All of the victims — five men and six women — were over the age of 50, and three were over 70, according to the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office.
Four of the victims were identified as My Nhan, a 65-year-old woman; Li Lilan, female, 63; Yu Xiujuan, female, 57; and Valentino Alvero, 68, the office said. Valentino Alvero). The other victims were described as two women in their 60s, a woman in her 70s, a man in his 60s and three men in his 70s, the office said.
The death comes as investigators delve into the history of 72-year-old gunman Huu Can Tran, who opened fire on revelers celebrating the Lunar New Year in the majority-Asian city.
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Afterwards, Tran went to another dance studio in the nearby Alhambra, but was overpowered and disarmed by a civilian. He fled the scene and was found a day later by police in a white van 30 miles away in Torrance, dead from self-inflicted gunshot wounds.
The bloody whirlwind turned one of the most auspicious days on the Asian-American calendar into one of unfathomable tragedy, but one that could have been deadlier nonetheless.
There are few clues as to the gunman’s motive, with an elderly Chinese immigrant described as interested in dancing and having a bad temper.
During the attack, he used a semi-automatic assault pistol with an extended high-capacity magazine, authorities said. A law enforcement official told CNN it was a Cobray M11 9mm semi-automatic weapon. The weapon, seized at the Alhambra dance studio, was located by the suspect, whose name and description were provided to authorities.
CNN is working to learn more about each victim. Nhan, known as “Mymy,” loved to dance and spent years at the dance studio where she was killed, according to a statement from her family. The family said Nhan was a “lovely aunt, sister, daughter and friend” and “the biggest cheerleader” in the family.
Tiffany Liou, a reporter for WFAA, a CNN affiliate in Dallas, told CNN and tweeted that Eun Han was her husband’s aunt. “I treat her niece/nephew like my own child,” Liou tweeted. “Her kindness is exactly what the world needs.”
The massacre is one of at least 36 mass shootings in the U.S. so far this month, particularly targeting members of the Asian American community, who have faced a surge in deadly attacks and harassment since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic . About 65 percent of Monterey Park’s residents are Asian, and about 100,000 people from all over Southern California typically come for the Lunar New Year celebrations.
“We’ve been on edge for the past few years because of the rise of Covid and its impact on our community, and the rise of Asian hatred in our community,” Monterey Park City Council member Thomas Wong told CNN. On top of that, to have to deal with this – for our local community – is very tragic.”
Authorities are trying to piece together pieces of Tran’s life to understand how he came to the point of mass violence.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said investigators found a handgun in his white van in Torrance and linked him to the Monterey Park and Alhambra “several pieces of evidence” linking the Alhambra dance studio.
A Hemet police spokesman confirmed that the sheriff’s department also obtained a search warrant for Tran’s home in Hemet Westlake, an exclusive community about 80 miles east of Monterey Park.
Hemet Police also said Tran visited their office two weeks ago and made serious misconduct allegations.
“Tran visited the Hemet Police Department lobby on January 7-9, 2023, alleging that his family was charged with fraud, theft and poisoning in the Los Angeles area 10 to 20 years ago,” police said in a statement. ” “Tran said he would return to the police station with papers about his charges, but he never returned.”
Tran was once a familiar face at the Star Ballroom dance studio, where he taught informal dance classes, three people who knew him told CNN. But it’s unclear how often, if ever, he’s visited in recent years.
The ex-wife said he even met her there after he saw her at a dance about 20 years ago, introducing himself and offering her free lessons. The pair got married shortly after they met, she said. She asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the case.
Tran sometimes worked as a truck driver, she said. He is an immigrant from China, according to a copy of her marriage certificate she showed to CNN.
Tran had a violent temper, his ex-wife and others said.
The ex-wife said that while he was never violent towards her, Tran would be upset if she missed the tap dance because he thought it made him look bad.
He filed for divorce in late 2005 and a judge granted it the following year, Los Angeles court records show.
Another longtime acquaintance of Tran also remembers him as a regular at the dance studio. The friend, who did not want to be named, was close to Tran in the late 2000s and early 2010s, when he said Tran would come to the dance studio “almost every night” from his home near San Gabriel.
Back then, Tran used to complain that the ballroom coaches didn’t like him and said “bad things about him,” the friend recalls. He said Tran was “hostile to a lot of people there”.
More generally, Tran was easily irritated, complained a lot and seemed distrustful, the friend said.
Tran’s friend was “absolutely shocked” when he heard about the shooting, he said, noting that he hadn’t seen Tran in years.
The massacre would have been far more deadly had it not been for the efforts of at least one civilian.
Police first responded to the Monterey Park dance studio around 10:20 p.m. and found the scene chaotic and bloody, city police Chief Scott Weiss said. He said the killer caused a “widespread” carnage before fleeing.
A few miles away in the Alhambra, Brandon Tsay was working at the box office of the Lille Ballroom and Studio when the same shooter entered the business that his family has owned for three generations. He knew this man was trouble.
“From his body language, his facial expressions, his eyes, he was looking for someone,” Tsai told the New York Times.
“He looked at me, looked around, and didn’t hide that he wanted to hurt people,” he said. “His eyes were full of menace.”
The gunman pointed a semi-automatic weapon at Tsay – the first gun he had ever seen in real life, he told the Times.
“My heart sank,” he said, “and I knew I was going to die.”
Tsay swooped in and attacked the man, he told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“When I worked up my courage, I threw myself at him with both hands, grabbed the weapon and we had an argument,” Tsay said. “We struggled to get into the lobby and tried to take this gun off each other.”
They struggled for about a minute and a half, and Tsay eventually recovered the weapon from the shooter, he told the New York Times.
He told The Times that once Tsay took control of the gun, he pointed it at the suspect and yelled at him to “get the hell out of here”. The man fled and Tsay called police.
Authorities praised Tsai’s efforts as heroic and said he prevented further disaster. Sheriff Luna said two individuals disarmed the man.
“They saved lives. It could have been worse,” he said.