MONTEREY PARK, Calif. — Law enforcement officials on Sunday described the gunman wanted for killing 10 people and wounding at least 10 people at a dance club after a Lunar New Year celebration as a man of Asian descent as they continue their frantic search for the suspect.
The motive behind the “heinous” crime at the Star Dance Studio in the Asian-American enclave of Monterey Park on Saturday night was still unknown, but investigators are investigating whether the carnage was driven by hate.
According to police, five men and five women were killed in the rampage at the ballroom dance club, about eight miles outside of downtown Los Angeles. Ten others were injured and treated at local hospitals — their condition ranged from stable to critical, officials said.
The “assumption” is that the victims were “probably” of Asian descent, Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said at a news conference. The victims had not yet been identified and it was not immediately clear how old they were, Luna said.
A manhunt was underway for the unknown suspect, who was described by police only as an Asian man between the ages of 30 and 50.
“There is a male suspect who fled the crime scene, described as a male Asian,” Luna said.
“It’s taken a while and bear with us because while interviewing witnesses and victims, we’ve gotten different descriptions of one suspect.”
Police also investigated whether he was the same man who walked into a “rival” dance hall in the nearby Alhambra with a firearm about 20 minutes after the mass murder.
The suspect was disarmed by people in the Lai Lai Ballroom, according to police, and no shots were fired at that location, which is about three miles away from Star Dance Studio.
It was unclear what type of caliber weapon was used in the attack on Monterey Park. The potential shooter in Alhambra was not armed with an assault rifle and may have fled in a white van, Luna said.
The massacre was the deadliest in the US since the massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, which killed 21 people last May, and was the fifth horrific incident in the country so far in 2023.
Police first received an 911 call at 10:22 p.m., just over an hour after a Lunar New Year festival drawing up to 100,000 people ended a short distance from the dancehall.
“We were just finishing the final closure of the Lunar New Year event,” said Scott Wiese, Monterey Park police chief.
“I had dozens of agents here all day and evening during the Lunar New Year event, so our response to the scene was within minutes,” he said.
Responding officers saw dozens of people pouring out of the dance club, some injured, Wiese said.
“My agents assembled a response team and went inside to see if the suspect was still inside,” he said.
“They probably entered that company within a minute or two of responding, and that’s how we’re trained and that’s how we respond,” Wiese said, drawing a stark contrast to the 77 minutes officers waited to respond to the shooting at a school in Uvalde, Texas.
The second day of the annual celebration – scheduled for Sunday – had been canceled as police questioned dozens of witnesses and searched video footage as they hunted for the elusive killer.
Even as the mass murderer remained at large, officials did not impose shelters on the San Gabriel Valley city of about 60,000, insisting the community was “now safe.”
“Our thoughts, prayers and condolences now go out not only to the victims, their families, but to this Monterey Park community,” said Luna.
“We are using all available resources to apprehend this suspect in what we believe is one of the county’s most heinous cases,” he added, saying state and federal authorities were also assisting with the investigation.
Wiese warned it was a “major investigation that will take many days and perhaps months,” and Representative Judy Chu said President Biden had been “assessed” for the “horrific shooting.”
“This could have been so much worse, there were thousands just hours earlier,” the Democrat said.
“What I know about the people here is that we will get through this together,” she added of the “resilient” community.
In a statement, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass added: “Families deserve to celebrate the holidays in peace – mass shootings and gun violence are a blight on our communities.
“As investigations determine whether these killings were motivated by Asian hatred, we continue to unite against all attempts to divide us,” Bass said. “My heart goes out to Monterey Park and the families and friends of the lost.”
In a statement, Lai Lai Ballroom said it would remain closed on Sunday while detectives searched the crime scene at Star Dance Studio.
“On the occasion of the tragedy at Star Dance last night, Lai Lai Ballroom is closed today. Tea and night dances have been suspended until further notice,” the statement said.
“Lai Lai will only open again for classes on Monday. As an extra precaution, all students and teachers are searched before entering the studio. Our prayers go out to all the families of the victims.”
It was not immediately clear what kind of event Star Dance Studio had organized as revelers who fell victim in the Year of the Rabbit.
Monica Orca, a former assistant at the studio, said Saturdays are usually reserved for Chinese social dances, where local community members can practice the dance moves they’ve learned from professional instructors.
“Usually on Saturdays around that time, it is reserved for social dances, usually attended by people of Chinese descent, usually they are 50 and older,” Orca told The Post on Sunday. “People come here to study from professional dancers. Even in the ballroom community, I’ve never seen violence. Not even one fight. Nothing. This is really weird and shocking. We go to the ballroom for stress relief. But if these shootings could happen in schools and now ballrooms, it could happen anywhere.
Orca said she spoke to the owner of Star Dance Studio, who was left shocked.
“I imagine this is something shocking to her,” she told The Post, adding that the owner was not injured.
The Star Ballroom hosts several showcases and has a diverse clientele, even though it’s in a predominantly Asian community, said Orca, who described the studio as “a special place.”
Another ballroom instructor who rented the Star Dance space for specific evenings to teach ballroom dancing said that the space has been hosting the Chinese Saturday social club for more than a decade, but that Saturday night was probably a special event because of the holiday.
“That event has been going on for over 10 years and it’s one of the most popular places on a Saturday night in that area,” said the man, who asked to remain anonymous.
‘But there’s a rival studio, the Lai Lai Studio, which is about four or five miles away. So the students who go to Star Dance sometimes go to Lai Lai Studio, which is popular on Sundays. Depending on the expertise of the teacher that night, the clients sometimes go back and forth between the two places.
“These two studios have been around for decades and they always compared and competed with each other,” said the instructor.
He added: “I have students from Singapore texting me asking if we are okay.”
“It’s really shocking because the ballroom is a small community,” said the instructor. “Ballroom is about sports and having fun. Most of the people who come here are seniors. I have been to many countries to teach ballroom, but nothing like this has ever happened.”
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