MONTEREY PARK, Calif. (TBEN) — A gunman killed 10 people at a ballroom dance studio during Lunar New Year celebrations and then attempted — but failed — to attack a second dance hall, authorities said Sunday. The search for the suspect was urgent in the Los Angeles area.
LA County Sheriff Robert Luna said the shooting at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park killed five women and five men and injured another 10 people. 20 to 30 minutes later, a man armed with a gun entered the Lai Lai Ballroom at nearby Alhambra.
Luna said it’s still unclear if the events are related.
The Alhambra incident “may be related,” Luna said. “We’re not quite there yet, but it’s definitely on our radar screen.”
A male Asian suspect entered the Alhambra club with a gun and people wrestled the weapon away from him before he fled, Luna said. Investigators are interested in a white van seen nearby, he added.
The sheriff declined to say what type of weapon was recovered from Alhambra. He said investigators believe the gun used in Monterey Park was not an assault rifle.
The massacre, which sparked fear in Monterey Park and Alhambra’s major Asian-American communities, was the country’s fifth mass murder this month. It was also the deadliest attack since May 24, when 21 people were killed at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
Monterey Park is a city of about 60,000 people on the eastern outskirts of Los Angeles, made up mostly of first-generation Asian immigrants from China or Asian Americans. The shooting took place in the heart of downtown, where red lanterns decorated the streets for the Lunar New Year festivities. A police car was parked near a large banner reading “Happy Year of the Rabbit!”
The Monterey Park celebration is one of the largest in California and had drawn tens of thousands of people throughout the day.
Two days of celebration were planned, attended by as many as 100,000 people in recent years. But officials canceled Sunday’s events after the shooting.
Tony Lai, 35, of Monterey Park was stunned when he learned before his early morning walk that the noises he heard at night were gunshots.
“I thought it might be fireworks. I thought it might have something to do with the Lunar New Year,’ he said. “And we don’t even get a lot of fireworks here. It’s weird to see this. It’s really safe here. We are in the middle of the city, but it is really safe.”
An The Bharat Express News/USA Today database on mass killings in the US shows that 2022 was one of the country’s worst years for mass killings, with 42 such attacks – the second highest number since the tracker’s inception in 2006 defines a mass murder as four dead, not counting the perpetrator.
The latest violence comes two months after five people were killed at a Colorado Springs nightclub.
President Joe Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland were briefed on the situation, aides said.
The shooting took place at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio, a few blocks from City Hall on Garvey Avenue, Monterey Park’s main thoroughfare, which is lined with small business malls whose signs are in both English and Chinese. Cantonese and Mandarin are both widely spoken, Chinese holidays are celebrated, and Chinese films are regularly screened in the city.
The company offered dance classes from tango to rumba to foxtrot and rented space for events. On Saturday, the website said it was hosting an event called “Star Night” from 8 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Seung Won Choi, owner of the seafood barbecue restaurant Clam House across the street from where the shooting took place, told The Los Angeles Times that three people stormed into his place and told him to lock the door.
The people told Choi that there was a shooter with a rifle carrying several cartridges.
Wong Wei, who lives nearby, told The Los Angeles Times that his friend was in a bathroom at the dance studio when shooting began. When she came out, he said, she saw a gunman and three bodies.
The friend then fled to Wei’s home around 11 p.m., he said, adding that his friends told him the gunman appeared to be firing indiscriminately with a long rifle.
The Bharat Express News writer Julie Watson in San Diego contributed to this report.