Police have located a white van they believe is connected to the gunman who opened fire at a ballroom dance studio in Monterey Park on Saturday night, killing 10 people and injuring 10 others.
Multiple police cars surrounded the vehicle in Torrance on Sunday morning and shots were fired, law enforcement sources told The Times. It was not known who was in the vehicle or whether there were any injuries.
The shooting occurred on Lunar New Year’s Eve about seven miles east of downtown Los Angeles. L.A. County Sheriff Robert Luna said it was too early to tell whether the festival was connected to the shooting.
A law enforcement source briefed on the matter said the gunman used a high-powered assault rifle at close range. Some witnesses described a white cargo van, which Luna said should be considered “a van of interest.”
An advisory from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department identified the suspect as an adult Asian man, about 5 foot, 10 inches and weighing 150 pounds. An image showed the man in a black leather jacket, beanie and glasses.
The mass shooting, one of California’s worst in recent memory, happened around 10:22 p.m. in the 100 block of West Garvey Avenue at a business known as Star Dance Studio.
“When officers arrived on scene, they observed numerous individuals, patrons … pouring out of the location, screaming. The officers made entry to the location and located additional victims,” sheriff’s Capt. Andrew Meyer told reporters Sunday morning.
Firefighters pronounced 10 people dead at the scene, including five men and five women, Luna said. At least 10 others were taken to numerous hospitals, and their conditions range from stable to critical.
About 20 minutes after the shooting, a “male Asian suspect” with a firearm walked into another dance hall in the neighboring suburb of Alhambra, Luna said. “Some individuals wrestled the firearm from him, and that individual took off,” he said.
Officials are still working to determine whether there is a connection between the two incidents.
Law enforcement were on scene Sunday morning in Alhambra at the Lai Lai Ballroom & Studio in the 100 block of South Garfield Avenue, about two miles north of the Monterey Park shooting. It was not clear whether the police activity at that site was the incident referenced by authorities. A handmade sign affixed to the front doors said, “Closed, in observance to Star Dance Tragedy” in red marker.
Wong Wei, who lives near the scene of the shooting, had four friends who were at Star Dance studio Saturday night, including his sister. He had been invited to go with them but decided not to go. Wei said one of his friends had been injured in the shooting and was lying on the ground with blood on her face.
The gunman was holding a “long” gun and appeared to be firing indiscriminately, Wei was told. The “boss” of the studio, referred to as Ma, had also been shot and was on the floor.
“She said, ‘Certainly he was dead. He wasn’t moving,’” Wei said. Wei wasn’t sure about the condition of his friend Sunday morning and if she had been hospitalized.
Seung Won Choi, who owns a seafood barbecue restaurant on Garvey Avenue across from where the shooting happened, said three people rushed into his restaurant and told him to lock the door.
They said there was a man with a semiautomatic gun in the area. The shooter, they said, had multiple rounds of ammunition, so that once his ammunition ran out he reloaded, Choi said.
Wong Wei, who lives nearby, said his friend had gone to the dance club that night with a few friends. His friend was in the bathroom when the shooting started.
When his friend came out, she told him she saw a gunman and three bodies — two women and one person who was the boss of the club, Wei said, adding that his friend escaped to his home around 11 p.m.
The shooter was carrying a long gun and appeared to fire indiscriminately, his friend told him.
“They don’t know why, so they run,” he said.
The shooting occurred near the site where tens of thousands had gathered Saturday for the start of a two-day Lunar New Year festival, one of the largest holiday events in the region.
Earlier in the day, crowds were enjoying skewers and shopping for Chinese food and jewelry. Saturday’s New Year festival hours were scheduled from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Monterey Park’s two-day Lunar New Year festival had been scheduled to conclude Sunday. But the day’s events are canceled “out of an abundance of caution and in reverence for the victims,” Monterey Park Police Chief Scott Wiese said.
Officials indicated that the shooting may have been a hate crime.
“As you know, hate crime is nothing new,” L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis said. “We know this is a problem, and we have to confront it.”
Luna said, “Everything is on the table.
“Who walks into a dance hall and guns down 20 people?” he said.
Hate crimes against Asian Americans in California increased 177.5% in 2021, according to the California Department of Justice.
Winn Liaw, 57, said she lives about two blocks from the studio and was in bed shortly before 11 p.m. on Saturday when she heard what sounded like firecrackers. She assumed they were part of a Lunar New Year celebration until she heard helicopters starting to circle over her neighborhood.
She woke up early Sunday to check out the set up for the Lunar New Year celebration that had been planned for later in the day when she learned about the shooting. Liaw said she is worried the shooting could have been motivated by anti-Chinese hate — a fear she said has been heightened by anti-Chinese rhetoric during the pandemic.
“This kind of thing doesn’t happen in my neighborhood,” she said, adding that she thought living in a mostly Asian community would insulate her from violence. “It’s starting to get worse and worse.”
John, who declined to give his last name, lives near the shooting site. The 27-year-old got home around 10 p.m. and heard four or five gunshots, he said. Then he heard police cruisers and “smashing” down the street. He went downstairs around 11:20 p.m. to see whether the shooting occurred at the festival.
“My first concern was I know they’re having a Lunar New Year celebration,” he said. But he said he saw that the festival had already been cleaned up for the day when he arrived. He went to the scene of the shooting and saw one person being put on a stretcher. Another person had a bandage on their arm.
Video on social media showed police and fire units swarming an area on Garvey Avenue and treating victims.
The violence left many in the area stunned.
Edwin Chen, a 47-year-old delivery dispatcher, rushed over from Woodland Hills to Monterey Park around 12:30 a.m. after hearing the news. Chen said he grew up in the area, and about a dozen of his relatives and friends live there.
He said he was saddened this happened just as the community was celebrating Lunar New Year.
“This is [supposed to be] a happy time,” he said. “I want to find out as much as possible. It’s still shocking.”
“Our hearts go out to those who lost loved ones tonight in our neighboring city, Monterey Park, where a mass shooting just occurred,” Los Angeles City Controller Kenneth Mejia, the first Asian American to hold citywide office in L.A., said on Twitter.
Monterey Park, a city of 61,000 in the San Gabriel Valley, east of Los Angeles, is 65% Asian American, 27% Latino and 6% white, according to census data.
One of the anchor suburbs in the San Gabriel Valley, Monterey Park is a hub of Asian American supermarkets and restaurants.
The Star Ballroom Dance Studio sits behind a Chinese herbal store along West Garvey Avenue. International ballroom competitors teach waltz, tango and Chinese dance classes everyday. The dance studio, which opened 30 years ago, offers party room rentals and karaoke happy hour as well.
On Saturday night, between 8 and 11:30 p.m., the studio listed an event being held as “Star Night, $10.”
Dance instructor David DuVal most recently taught samba and tango there on Thursday morning.
He said the studio has Saturday night parties and that a lot of people who attend are older. “60s would be young.”
“There’s definitely going to be people in their 70s, 80s, people in their 90s,” he said. “A lot of people I teach are older people. I have a feeling it could be one of them or people I know.”
DuVal said he learned what happened Saturday night over WeChat. He reached out to one of his students, who was there and hid under a table. His student said she saw a man with a “long firearm.” She doesn’t know what he looked like.
He said there are couples who have been going there for a decade or more. People who are retired and going there to be healthy. Some in their 90s “and still dancing.”
“It’s old people dancing to music for fun. It’s their exercise,” he said.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre tweeted that President Biden has been briefed on the shooting. The tweet said Biden directed his Homeland Security advisor, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, “to make sure that the FBI is providing full support to local authorities, and to update him regularly today as more details are known.”
The shooting is one of the worst in modern Los Angeles County history. One of the last mass shootings of this scale happened Christmas Eve in 2008, when a man dressed as Santa Claus entered a home in Covina, armed with five handguns. Nine people were killed in that rampage, including the gunman’s former wife and her parents. The gunman took his life hours later.
Other recent mass shootings in California include the massacre at a San Ysidro McDonald’s in 1984, where a gunman killed 21 people; and the terrorist attack that resulted in 14 deaths in San Bernardino in 2015.
In 2018, 12 people were killed during a mass shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks.
Saturday’s shooting comes five days after six people — including a 10-month old baby, his 16-year-old mother and a grandmother — were killed in the Central Valley farming community of Goshen in Tulare County.
“I hope we can make a determination as to whether this was a hate crime,” Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) said, describing the Lunar New Year as a time to celebrate with family. “This tore a hole through all of our hearts.”
Anyone with information is asked to call the L.A. County Sheriff’s homicide detectives at (323) 890-5500. Anonymous tips can be made by calling (800) 222-8477.
Times staff writer Ruben Vives contributed to this report.
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