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California mass shooting motive remains a mystery

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MONTEREY PARK, Calif. (NewsNation) — Investigators searched a gunman’s home Sunday night for a motive after he killed 10 people at a Los Angeles-area ballroom dance club during a Lunar New Year celebration.

The suspect, 72-year-old Huu Can Tran, was found Sunday, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a van in which authorities say he fled after people thwarted his attempt at a second shooting Saturday night. No other suspects were at large, Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said.

The massacre was the nation’s fifth mass killing this month. It was also the deadliest attack since May 24, when 21 people were killed in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

Monterey Park Mayor Henry Lo spoke with NewsNation Monday morning, saying they are still trying to determine the motivation behind the attack. He said there has been some speculation about why he targeted the ballroom. 

“I understand that he met his ex-wife here 20 years ago, and he was a frequent attendee at the dance hall. But unfortunately, no, we still don’t fully know the motivation for him to do what he did during the Lunar New Year’s celebration,” Lo said.

Police said the 72-year-old entered the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park and opened fire, killing five men and five women. He also injured 10 others, seven of them were still in the hospital Monday morning.

The Los Angeles County Dept. of Medical Examiner-Coroner has identified two of the victims as 65-year-old My Nhan and 63-year-old Lilan Li. The three other women have not been identified but one is in her 50s and two are in their 60s. The five men have not yet been identified as well, but three men were in their 70s and two were in their 60s.

“It’s still sinking in what happened to Mymy. She spent so many years going to the dance studio in Monterey Park on weekends. It’s what she loved to do,” a statement on behalf of the Nhan and Quan family said. “We are starting the Lunar New Year broken.”

Monterey Park Police Chief Scott Wiese said Sunday evening that officers arrived at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park within three minutes of receiving the call. There, they found carnage inside and people trying to flee through all the doors.

“When they came into the parking lot it, was chaos,” Wiese said.

About 20 to 30 minutes after the first attack, the gunman entered the Lai Lai Ballroom in the nearby city of Alhambra in a second attempt at a mass shooting. However, people wrested the weapon away from him and witnesses said he fled in a white van, according to Luna.

“They saved lives. This could have been much worse,” Luna said.

The suspect carried what Luna described as a semi-automatic pistol with an extended magazine. Police discovered a second handgun in the van where Tran died.

The van was found in Torrance, another community home to many Asian Americans, about 22 miles from that second location.

After surrounding the vehicle for hours, law enforcement officials swarmed and entered it. A person’s body appeared to be slumped over the wheel and was later removed. Members of a SWAT team looked through the van’s contents before walking away.

The sheriff’s department earlier released photos of an Asian man believed to be the suspect, apparently taken from a security camera.

Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), who represents Monterey Park, worked to reassure her community that the threat was over and the Lunar New Year could move forward in peace. She said she still has questions about the attack but hopes residents now feel safe.

“The community was in fear thinking that they should not go to any events because there was an active shooter,” Chu said, speaking at Sunday’s news conference.

“What was the motive for this shooter?” she said. “Did he have a mental illness? Was he a domestic violence abuser? How did he gets these guns and was it through legal means or not?”

Monterey Park, a city of about 60,000 people on the eastern edge of Los Angeles, is composed mostly of Asian immigrants from China or first-generation Asian Americans. The shooting happened in the heart of its downtown where red lanterns decorated the streets for the Lunar New Year festivities. A police car was parked near a large banner that proclaimed “Happy Year of the Rabbit!”

“We’re resilient,” Lo said. He said it is understandable that the community is rattled following the attack because they have been dealing with issues of violence against Asian Americans for years now.

“Moving forward, I want the community to be reassured that their police department is out to protect their neighborhoods and families and that we will get through this together,” Lo said.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom visited Monterey Park on Sunday, meeting with victims and their families as well as local officials.

President Joe Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland were briefed on the situation, aides said. Biden said he and first lady Jill Biden were thinking of those killed and wounded.

“We have a crisis resource center that is there to help the victims or families cope as well as those communities who right now need assistance to deal with the trauma,” Lo said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

  • Police investigate a scene where a shooting took place in Monterey Park, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. Dozens of police officers responded to reports of a shooting that occurred after a large Lunar New Year celebration had ended in a community east of Los Angeles late Saturday. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
  • Investigators gather at a scene where a shooting took place in Monterey Park, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. Dozens of police officers responded to reports of a shooting that occurred after a large Lunar New Year celebration in a community east of Los Angeles late Saturday. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
  • Members of the media wait for a briefing in Monterey Park, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. Nine people were killed in a mass shooting late Saturday in a city east of Los Angeles following a Lunar New Year celebration that attracted thousands, police said. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
  • FBI agents walk near a scene where a shooting took place in Monterey Park, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. Nine people were killed in a mass shooting late Saturday in a city east of Los Angeles following a Lunar New Year celebration that attracted thousands, police said. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
  • A police officer walks near a scene where a shooting took place in Monterey Park, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. Nine people were killed in a mass shooting late Saturday in a city east of Los Angeles following a Lunar New Year celebration that attracted thousands, police said. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
  • Two police vehicles are seen near a building where a shooting occurred in Monterey Park, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. Nine people were killed in a mass shooting late Saturday in a city east of Los Angeles following a Lunar New Year celebration that attracted thousands, police said. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
  • Law enforcement personnel gather outside a ballroom dance club in Monterey Park, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. A mass shooting took place at the dance club following a Lunar New Year celebration, setting off a manhunt for the suspect. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
  • Police officers stand outside a ballroom dance club in Monterey Park, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. A mass shooting took place at a dance club following a Lunar New Year celebration, setting off a manhunt for the suspect. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
  • A police officer gets out of his vehicle near a ballroom dance club in Monterey Park, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. A mass shooting took place at a dance club following a Lunar New Year celebration, setting off a manhunt for the suspect. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
  • A police officer ties tape around a light pole in Monterey Park, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. A mass shooting took place at a dance club following a Lunar New Year celebration, setting off a manhunt for the suspect. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
  • An investigator carries markers outside Star Dance Studio in Monterey Park, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. A mass shooting took place at the dance club following a Lunar New Year celebration, setting off a manhunt for the suspect in the fifth mass killing in the U.S. this month. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
  • Investigators are seen outside Star Dance Studio in Monterey Park, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. A mass shooting took place at the dance club following a Lunar New Year celebration, setting off a manhunt for the suspect. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
  • A law enforcement helicopter hovers over Star Dance Studio in Monterey Park, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. A mass shooting took place at the dance club following a Lunar New Year celebration, setting off a manhunt. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
  • An investigator carries markers outside Star Dance Studio in Monterey Park, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. A mass shooting took place at the dance club following a Lunar New Year celebration, setting off a manhunt. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
  • This combination image created using photos provided by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department shows a male suspect allegedly involved in a shooting on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, in Monterey Park, Calif. Authorities have identified the suspect as 72-year-old Huu Can Tran and say that Tran was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the van he used to flee after people thwarted his attempt at a second shooting. (Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department via AP)
  • Members of a SWAT team enter a van and look through its contents in Torrance Calif., Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. An hours-long manhunt led police to surround and enter the van. Authorities say the suspect in a California dance club shooting that left multiple people dead, shot and killed himself. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
  • A forensic photographer takes pictures of a van’s window and its contents in Torrance, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. A mass shooting took place at a dance club following a Lunar New Year celebration, setting off a manhunt for the suspect. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
  • This image taken with a drone shows Star Dance Studio in Monterey Park, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. A gunman killed multiple people at the ballroom dance studio late Saturday amid Lunar New Years celebrations in the predominantly Asian American community of Monterey Park. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
  • A body is seen on the driver’s side of a van as authorities investigate, in Torrance, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. Authorities say the driver, the suspect in a California dance club shooting that left multiple people dead, shot and killed himself. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
  • Hunter Zhao, 41, holds flowers to honor the victims killed in Saturday’s ballroom dance studio shooting in Monterey Park, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. A gunman killed multiple people at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio late Saturday amid Lunar New Years celebrations in the predominantly Asian American community. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
  • Jolie Slater, right, and Beth Paz, from Lake Avenue Church, embrace each other at a gathering held to honor the victims killed in Saturday’s ballroom dance studio shooting in Monterey Park, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. A gunman killed multiple people at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio late Saturday amid Lunar New Years celebrations in the predominantly Asian American community of Monterey Park. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
  • Investigators leave the Star Ballroom Dance Studio following Saturday’s fatal mass shooting in Monterey Park, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)