Investigators looking through the home of the 72-year-old gunman who carried out a mass shooting in Monterey Park, California, on Saturday night found a .308 caliber rifle, hundreds of rounds of loose ammo and items that led them to believe he was building homemade firearm suppressors, Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said Monday.
Police recovered 42 shell casings and a large capacity magazine at the dance studio that was the site of the shooting, Luna said. Investigators also found a handgun in the gunman’s white van, he said, adding that the firearm was registered to the suspect.
Despite the newfound evidence, authorities are unsure of what motivated the gunman, Huu Can Tran, an elderly Chinese immigrant described as having an interest in dance and a hot temper. He had a limited criminal history, including an arrest in 1990 for unlawful possession of a firearm, the sheriff said.
“We do not have a motive yet,” he said. “We want to know as much as all of you, and we’re working very hard to attain that.”
The gunman was “very familiar” with the dance studio where the shooting took place, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón told CNN. “There is certainly the appearance that this was targeted,” he added.
The sheriff announced the details at a press conference less than two days after the gunman opened fire at a Lunar New Year party in the majority Asian American city, killing 11 people over the age of 50 and wounding nine others.
At least one person was shot in a vehicle outside the Star Ballroom Dance Studio, and police believe Tran shot that person first before he entered the dance studio and opened fire on the crowd of civilians, firing 42 shots in all, the sheriff said.
Monterey Park Police Chief Scott Wiese said officers were on scene within three to four minutes.
The suspect, still armed, fled the scene and went to another dance studio in nearby Alhambra, where he was tackled and disarmed by a civilian. The suspect then fled the scene and police found him a day later in a white van about 30 miles away in Torrance, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
In carrying out the attack, he used a 9mm semi-automatic MAC-10 pistol with an extended large-capacity magazine, Luna said. The disarmed weapon was traced to the suspect and provided authorities his name and description.
The sheriff said the assault weapon appears to have been modified.
The bloody whirlwind transformed one of the most auspicious days of the calendar for Asian Americans into a day of unfathomable tragedy, yet still one which could have been even deadlier.
The massacre, one of at least 36 mass shootings in the US so far this month, particularly targeted members of the Asian community, who have faced a surge of deadly attacks and harassment since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. About 65% of residents in Monterey Park are of Asian descent and some 100,000 people from across Southern California typically turn out for Lunar New Year celebrations.
“We’ve been on edge the last few years as Covid rose and impacted our communities, and the rise of Asian hate in our communities as well,” Monterey Park City Council Member Thomas Wong told CNN. “And to deal with this on top of that — for our local community — has just been tremendously tragic.”
Victims were all over 50 years old
All of the victims – five men and six women – were over the age of 50, and three were over 70 years old, according to the Los Angeles County coroner’s office.
Four of the victims were identified as My Nhan, a 65-year-old woman; Lilan Li, a 63-year-old woman; Xiujuan Yu, a 57-year-old woman; and Valentino Alvero, a 68-year-old man, the office said. 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 their 70s, the office said.
Nhan, known as “Mymy,” loved to dance and spent many years at the dance studio where she was killed, according to a statement from her family. Nhan was a “loving aunt, sister, daughter and friend” and was the family’s “biggest cheerleader,” the family said.
Tiffany Liou, a reporter for CNN affiliate WFAA in Dallas, told CNN and also posted on Twitter that Nhan was her husband’s aunt. “Mymy treated her nieces/nephews like her own kids,” Liou wrote on Twitter. “Her kindness is what’s needed in this world.”
Nhan’s dance instructor, Maksym Kapitanchuk, told CNN she was a delight to have around.
“She would always smile,” Kapitanchuk said. “I don’t even think I’ve ever seen her without her smile – even through the mask I can see her eyes smiling. She was the delight of the class, of any party, any class.”
Few details were available Monday on the other victims. At least one of those killed was a Chinese citizen, the Chinese Consulate General in Los Angeles said in a statement.
“The serious shooting incident in the Chinese community is shocking and deeply regrettable,” the Chinese Consulate said in its statement, adding that the Chinese embassy and consulates in the US were ordered to lower their flags to half-staff.
One of the victims, Alvero, was a United States citizen of Filipino descent, the Philippine Consulate General in Los Angeles said in a statement Monday.
“The Philippine Consulate General in Los Angeles expresses its shock and great sadness over the mass shooting incident,” the consulate said. “Our prayers go out to the families of the victims and we mourn with them during this lunar new year festival, which is supposed to be a time of gathering and celebration.”
Suspect used to frequent the dance hall, sources say
Authorities are working to put together pieces of Tran’s life to understand how he came to the point of mass violence.
The sheriff’s department also obtained a search warrant for Tran’s home in The Lakes at Hemet West, a senior community about 80 miles east of Monterey Park, a Hemet Police spokesperson confirmed.
Hemet Police said Tran had visited their office about two weeks ago and made serious allegations of wrongdoing.
“Tran visited the Hemet Police Department lobby on January 7 and 9, 2023, alleging past fraud, theft, and poisoning allegations involving his family in the Los Angeles area 10 to 20 years ago,” police said in a statement. “Tran stated he would return to the station with documentation regarding his allegations but never returned.”
Tran had once been a familiar face at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio, where he gave informal dance lessons, three people who knew him told CNN. But it’s not clear how often he visited in recent years, if at all.
He even met his ex-wife there about two decades ago after he saw her at a dance, introduced himself and offered her free lessons, the ex-wife said. The two married soon after they met, she said. She asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the case.
Tran worked as a truck driver at times, she said. He was an immigrant from China, according to a copy of his marriage license she showed to CNN.
And Tran had a hot temper, his ex-wife and others said. While he was never violent to her, the ex-wife said, Tran would get upset if she missed a step dancing because he felt it made him look bad.
He filed for divorce in late 2005, and a judge approved the divorce the following year, Los Angeles court records show.
Another longtime acquaintance of Tran also remembered him as a regular patron of the dance studio. The friend, who also asked not 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 in nearby San Gabriel.
At that time, Tran often complained that the instructors at the dance hall didn’t like him and said “evil things about him,” the friend recalled. He said Tran was “hostile to a lot of people there.”
More generally, Tran was easily irritated, complained a lot and didn’t seem to trust people, the friend said.
Tran’s friend was “totally shocked” when he heard about the shooting, he said, noting he hadn’t seen Tran in several years.
Civilian disarmed gunman at second location
The massacre could have been more deadly if not for the efforts of Brandon Tsay.
After Tran opened fire at the Monterey Park dance studio, he left and went to the Lai Lai Ballroom and Studio a few miles away in Alhambra. Tsay, whose family had owned the business for three generations, was working the ticket office when Tran entered, and he knew quickly the man was trouble.
Tran was silent and stoic, and appeared to be scouting the room, Tsay told CNN’s Anderson Cooper Monday evening.
Then Tsay froze. He saw the man had a firearm pointed at him, he said.
“I’m going to die. This is it. This is the end for me,” Tsay recalled thinking. “But then something happened. Something came over me.”
He lunged towards Tran and struggled with him for about 40 seconds, but he said it felt like “way longer.” Tran hit him several times on his face, the back of his head and on his back and hands, Tsay said.
“I was trying to divert the weapon away from me and the ballroom, down on the ground in case he did fire,” he said.
In those seconds, as his life was on the line, Tsay thought to himself “If I let go of this gun, what would happen to me, the people around me, my friends, my family?”
Tsay was eventually able to pull the gun away from the gunman – the first time he ever held a gun – and told Tran to leave, he said. At first, Tran looked like he was considering attacking Tsay again, but then left the lobby and jogged back to his van, Tsay said.
Sheriff Luna initially said there were two people who disarmed the man but on Monday corrected himself and identified Tsay as the lone person responsible.
“He’s the hero that disarmed the suspect at the Alhambra location and in my opinion saved many lives,” he said. “What a brave man he is.”
CNN’s Elizabeth Wolfe, Chris Boyette, Joe Sutton, Alisha Ebrahimji, John Miller, Jeff Winter, Casey Tolan, Scott Glover, Matt Meyer, Melissa Alonso, Michelle Watson, Betsy Klein, Sarah Fortinsky and Taylor Romine contributed to this report.