By ANDREW DALTON and JAE C. HONG
MONTEREY PARK, Calif. (AP) — A gunman killed 10 people at a ballroom dance studio amid a day of Lunar New Year celebrations and then may have tried – but failed – to target a second dance hall, authorities said Sunday. An urgent search was underway across the Los Angeles area for the suspect.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said that 20 to 30 minutes after the shooting at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park late Saturday – which left five women and five men dead and another 10 people injured – a man with a gun entered the Lai Lai Ballroom in nearby Alhambra. Luna said it’s still unclear whether the events are connected.
“We believe that there’s an incident that may be related,” said Luna of the incident in Alhambra. “We’re not quire there yet, but it’s definitely on our radar screen.”
Luna said that a “male Asian suspect” entered the Alhambra club with a “firearm” and that people wrestled the gun away from him before he fled. Investigators are interested in a white cargo van that was seen in the area and that police have the gun from Alhambra.
Luna declined to say what type of gun was recovered in Alhambra, and said that investigators believe the fire arm used Monterey Park was not an “assault rifle.”
The massacre – which derailed Lunar New Year celebrations and sent fear through Monterey Park and Alhambra’s large Asian American communities – was the nation’s fifth mass killing this month.
Monterey Park is a city of about 60,000 people on the eastern edge of Los Angeles and 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!”
The celebration in Monterey Park is one of California’s largest and had attracted tens of thousands throughout the day.
Two days of festivities, which have been attended by as many as 100,000 people in past years, were planned. But officials canceled Sunday’s events following the shooting.
Tony Lai, 35, of Monterey Park was stunned when he came out for his early morning walk to learn that the noises he heard in the night were gunshots.
“I thought maybe it was fireworks. I thought maybe it had something to do with 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’re right in the middle of the city, but it’s really safe.”
The tragedy marked not just the fifth mass killing in the U.S. since the start of the year but also the deadliest since May 24, when 21 people were killed in a school in Uvalde, Texas, according to The Associated Press/USA Today database on mass killings in the U.S.
The database also shows that 2022 was also one of the nation’s worst years in terms of mass killings, with 42 such attacks — the second-highest number since the creation of the tracker in 2006. The database defines a mass killing as four people killed not including the perpetrator.
The latest violence comes two months after five people were killed at a Colorado Springs nightclub.
The White House said President Joe Biden was briefed on the situation by Homeland Security Adviser Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall.
Attorney General Merrick Garland was also briefed, Justice Department spokesperson Dena Iverson said.
The shooting occurred at Star Ballroom Dance Studio, a few blocks from city hall on Monterey Park’s main thoroughfare of Garvey Avenue, which is dotted with strip malls of small businesses whose signs are in both English and Chinese. Cantonese and Mandarin are both widely spoken, Chinese holidays are celebrated, and Chinese films are screened regularly in the city.
The business offered dance lessons from Tango to Rumba to the Fox Trot, and rented its space for events. On Saturday, its website said it was hosting an event called “Star Night” from 8 p.m. to 11:30 p.m..
Seung Won Choi, who owns the Clam House seafood barbecue restaurant across the street from where the shooting happened, told The Los Angeles Times that three people rushed into his business and told him to lock the door.
The people said to Choi that there was a shooter with a gun who had multiple rounds of ammunition on him.
Wong Wei, who lives nearby, told The Los Angeles Times that his friend was in a bathroom at the dance studio when the shooting started. When she came out, he said, she saw a gunman and three bodies.
The friend then fled to Wei’s home at around 11 p.m., he said, adding that his friends told him that the shooter appeared to fire indiscriminately with a long gun.
Associated Press writer Julie Watson in San Diego contributed to this report.