Hours after a gunman turned a California ballroom into a shooting gallery late Saturday—killing 10 people and wounding 10 others—police said they discovered the escaped suspect in a white cargo van, dead of what was believed to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The suspect was identified as Huu Can Tran, 72, by Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna at a Sunday afternoon press conference. He opened fire at the Star Dance Studio around 10:22 p.m. PT Saturday in Monterey Park, California, less than an hour after a Lunar New Year festival in the city ended.
Hours later, the septuagenarian was found slumped over the van’s steering wheel by SWAT officers following a standoff in the parking lot of a Japanese grocery store in Torrance, roughly 30 miles away from Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, the site of the shooting.
Reports of Tran’s death signaled the end of an hours-long manhunt that left the entire community on edge through much of Sunday.
“Feel safe,” said Rep. Judy Chu (D), a former Monterey Park mayor, confirming that no other suspects remained at large. “You are no longer in danger because this shooter is gone.”
But many questions remained, not least that of the suspect’s motive. “Did he have a mental illness?” Chu asked. “Was he a domestic violence abuser? How did he get these guns and was it through a legal means or not?”
Adam Hood, who identified himself as a former tenant of the suspect’s, told The Daily Beast that Tran had seemed like “a lone ranger” several years back.
“He didn't have many friends...” Hood said. “He liked to dance in the ballroom, in Star Dance Studio and Lai Lai Studio. But it seems to me that he didn’t have friends there.”
His ex-wife, who declined to be identified, told CNN on Sunday that she’d met Tran about 20 years ago at Star Ballroom Dance Studio. An informal teacher there, he’d offered her free lessons, and the pair wed soon after, she said. Their divorce was completed by 2006, with the ex-wife alleging their relationship had been shaped by Tran’s short fuse—his exasperation when she missed a step on the dance floor, for example.
A man identified as “a long-time acquaintance” of Tran’s similarly remembered him as “easily irritated,” quick to complain, and slow to trust others, according to CNN. Despite his proclivity for Star, which he’d visit “almost every night” through the late aughts and early 2010s, Tran was “hostile to a lot of people there,” claiming that the teachers said “evil things about him,” the friend said.
It was unclear how often Tran frequented Star in the years leading up to Sunday’s shooting.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said investigators believed the gunman moved to a second location in neighboring Alhambra shortly after opening fire at the Star. The second location was identified by the Los Angeles Times as the Lai Lai Ballroom & Studio. There, two community members—characterized as “heroes” by Luna—disarmed the shooter.
The firearm wrested from the suspect was “a magazine-fed semiautomatic assault pistol” that had “an extended large capacity magazine attached to it,” the sheriff said, adding later that he believed the weapon was illegal to own in the state of California.
“We will do more research on it,” Luna said.
A second handgun was also discovered in the van, which was believed to have stolen license plates.
None of the victims had been identified as of Sunday night, but police said five men and five women had died. Many of them, according to Luna, were middle-aged. “They’re not in their 20s or 30s,” he said. “They seem to be probably in their 50s or 60s, and maybe some even beyond that.”
David DuVal, who teaches at the Star studio, told the Los Angeles Times that the victims were more likely to be elderly. “It’s old people dancing to music for fun. It’s their exercise,” he said.
Authorities still have not released any information on a potential motive, saying it’s too early to rule out a hate crime and that “anything’s a possibility.”
On Sunday morning, officers were seen going in and out of Alhambra’s Lai Lai Ballroom, which noted on its Facebook page that it was suspending all-night dances and would reopen only for lessons on Monday.
“As an extra precaution, All students and teachers are subject to search prior to entering the studio,” the studio wrote.
Monterey Park, located less than 10 miles from Los Angeles, holds a population of about 60,000. The community is about 65 percent Asian, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Wong Wei, who lives near the crime scene, told the Los Angeles Times that a friend who survived the massacre emerged from the bathroom to find a gunman holding a long gun and three bodies.
“When officers arrived on scene, they observed numerous individuals, patrons of the location, pouring out of the location screaming. The officers made entry to the location and located additional victims,” Meyer said.
“The Monterey Park Police Fire Department responded to the scene and treated the injured and pronounced 10 of the victims deceased at the scene. There were at least 10 additional victims that were transported to numerous local hospitals and are listed in various conditions from stable to critical. The suspect fled the scene and remains outstanding.”
In a tweet, White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said President Joe Biden was briefed on the horrific mass shooting by Homeland Security Adviser Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall.
“He directed her to make sure that the FBI is providing full support to local authorities, and to update him regularly today as more details are known,” Jean-Pierre wrote.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom also said the state was monitoring the situation.
“Monterey Park should have had a night of joyful celebration of the Lunar New Year,” he tweeted. “Instead, they were the victims of a horrific and heartless act of gun violence. Our hearts mourn as we learn more about the devastating acts of last night.”
Meanwhile, Monterey Park said in a statement that the second day of Lunar New Year festivities has been canceled.
“The City expresses condolences to the individuals, families, and friends who were injured in this tragic incident,” the city said.
“Even though the incident did not occur at the 2023 Lunar New Year Festival, an active investigation is currently underway and the area near and around the festival is affected. As a precaution and for the safety of everyone, the City regrets to announce the cancellation of the second day of the festival.”
A website for Star Ballroom Dance Studio says the center was opened in 2013 by Maria Liang, who previously worked for Nike and East West Bank, which serves the Chinese-American community.
“With 10,000 square feet of floor space, it is one of the largest dance studios in town, featuring dozens of teachers and performers from Europe, the Americas, and China,” the website says.
According to an events calendar, the studio was open Saturday evening for “Star Night,” with dancing from 8 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. for $10.
If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. You can also text or dial 988.