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A sign reading "do not enter" near the scene of a deadly shooting on 21 January 2023 in Monterey Park, California. Ten people were killed and 10 more were injured at a dance studio in Monterey Park near a Lunar New Year celebration on Saturday night. (Photo by Zhang Shuo/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images)

Investigators Search for Motive After Mass Shooting in California

While many people were celebrating Lunar New Year’s Eve on 21 January, people in the largely Asian American community of Monterey Park, California, were in shock after a mass shooting left 10 people dead and 10 injured.

Alleged attacker Huu Can Tran, a 72-year-old man, targeted two separate dance studios in the city on Saturday night. At 10:22 p.m., the suspected gunman opened fire at Star Dance Studio, a Chinese-owned ballroom dance hall, before fleeing. Authorities said the shooter was armed with a magazine-fed assault-style pistol. Half an hour later, the gunman entered Lai Lai Ballroom and Studio a few miles away in Alhambra, but he was disarmed before he could shoot, NPR reported.

Authorities confirmed that My Nhan, 65, and Lilian Li, 63, were two of the victims killed in the shooting, according to The Guardian. 

“Officials have yet to publicly identify the eight other victims pending notifications to their relatives, the coroner's office said, while advising they were two women in their 60s, one woman in her 50s, two men in their 60s, and three men in their 70s,” The Guardian reported.

One of the people who disarmed the shooter was Brandon Tsay, 26, who helps run the Lai Lai Ballroom with his family. Tsay told ABC News that the gunman was “looking around the room” as if he was “looking for targets—people to harm.”

Surveillance camera footage showed Tsay grab the gunman's pistol and struggle with the man, who repeatedly hit Tsay in the head and face during the fight. After losing control of the weapon, the suspect jogged back to his van and left the area while Tsay called police.

“I was shaking all night. I couldn't believe what happened,” Tsay told ABC News. "A lot of people have been telling me how much courage I had to confront a situation like this. But you know what courage is? Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the ability to have adversity to fear when fearful events happen such as this."

“In crises like this, the people need courage, especially the victims, their friends, their families,” he continued. “My heart goes out to everybody involved, especially the people in Star Dance Studio and Monterey Park. I hope they can find the courage and the strength to persevere.”

The shooting kicked off a manhunt throughout the area, leading police to focus on a white cargo van in Torrance, California. After police pulled over the driver of the van, they heard a single gunshot. They then discovered Tran dead inside from a self-inflicted wound. Authorities have not yet released a motivation for the crime. 

Monterey Park had just wrapped up the first day of its Lunar New Year Festival when the shooting occurred, and the second day of festivities was canceled. The festival—the first held since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic—normally draws more than 100,000 visitors, The Washington Post reported. Following the attack, police departments in large cities including San Francisco, New York City, Philadelphia, and Houston announced they would increase their presence at Lunar New Year events.

“Regardless of what the intent was, the impact on our community has been really profound,” said Connie Chung Joe, CEO of the nonprofit Asian Americans Advancing Justice Southern California, in an interview with the Associated Press.

“Having this tragedy on one of our most important holidays ... it feels very personal to our community,” she said. “There is still that feeling of being targeted, and being fearful, when we hear about a shooting like this.”

Asian American communities have faced a surge of hate crime following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Between 2019 and 2020, anti-Asian hate crimes spiked 149 percent in 16 American cities, the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism found. While investigators pursue the Monterey Park shooter’s motivation, the attack put many residents on edge about the possibility of race-motivated crime, the Post noted.

“The context is certainly concerning and brings those fears up, whether they’re founded or not,” Monterey Park City Council member Thomas Wong told the Post. “Regardless of the motive and whether this was a hate crime, the fact of the matter is this type of violence is sparking fear in our community, in our Asian American community.”