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California shooting suspect was regular at Monterey Park dance studio

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2023-01-24T01:48:02Z

Brandon Tsay describes the moment he realized he had to disarm a gunman at the Lai Lai Ballroom, his family-run dance hall, in Alhambra, California, on Saturday (January 21) night and the “struggle” between them that came afterwards.

Flowers are left near the scene of a shooting that took place during a Chinese Lunar New Year celebration, in Monterey Park, California, U.S. January 22, 2023. REUTERS/Allison Dinner

The 72-year-old suspected gunman in Saturday night’s mass shooting at a Los Angeles-area dance studio had been a regular there, giving informal lessons and even meeting his ex-wife at the venue, according to friends and media reports.

Authorities say Huu Can Tran fired 42 rounds at a celebration of the Lunar New Year at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio, popular in the predominantly Asian-American city of Monterey Park, east of Los Angeles. The death toll rose to 11 on Monday.

Tran went to another dance club in the neighboring city of Alhambra soon after the massacre, police say, but a patron there wrestled away his gun, possibly thwarting a second attack. Tran died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound on Sunday as police approached a van he was driving.

It is exceedingly rare for a person over 70 to carry out a mass shooting. While authorities have not identified a motive, some details have emerged about Tran’s background.

Tran had at least one prior run-in with the law. In 1994, he was arrested for unlawful possession of a firearm, Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna told reporters.

A search after the shooting revealed Tran had hundreds of rounds of ammunition at home, where investigators believe he was making his own silencers, Luna said.

Adam Hood, who said he has been a tenant for years in a property Tran owned and spoke to him frequently, told Reuters that Tran was angry and did not have many friends, but liked ballroom dancing, his main social activity.

“He was a good dancer,” said Hood, who met Tran in the early 2000s and said they bonded over their shared experience as Chinese immigrants. “But he was distrustful of the people at the studio, angry and distrustful. I think he just had enough.”

Tran complained that people at the studio were talking behind his back, Hood said.

CNN reported, citing an unnamed friend, that Tran complained the dance instructors said “evil things about him” and that Tran was “hostile” to a lot of people at the studio.

On Jan. 7 and Jan. 9, Tran visited the police department in Hemet, the small city about 90 minutes east of Monterey Park where he lived, to make “past fraud, theft and poisoning allegations involving his family” stemming from 10 to 20 years ago, according to a statement from the department on Monday.

Tran said he would come back with documentation but never returned, the statement said. A department spokesperson said police are not releasing more details about his claims at this time.

In addition to the 9mm semi-automatic MAC-10 assault weapon that was wrested off him by 26-year-old bystander Brandon Tsay, Tran also had a .308 caliber rifle at home and a Norinco 7.62×25 handgun in his cargo van, Luna said.

Tran had an active trucking license and previously owned a company called Tran’s Trucking starting in 2002. He lived in San Gabriel, near Monterey Park, from the early 1990s until around 2014, records show.

Tran moved in 2020 to a mobile home in a private, gated senior living community with a nine-hole golf course in Hemet.

He met his ex-wife at the dance studio about two decades ago, she told CNN in an interview. Tran introduced himself to her and offered her free lessons.

While Tran was never violent, he was quick to anger, for instance, if she missed a step while dancing, she told CNN. They divorced in 2005.

Efforts by Reuters to interview the ex-wife at a house listed in records as her residence were unsuccessful on Monday. Tran never remarried and did not have a girlfriend, according to Hood, his tenant.

When asked at a news conference about reports that Tran may have acted out of jealousy, Monterey Park Police Chief Scott Wiese said, “We’re hearing those things, too, but have not confirmed any of that information.”

A database of 185 mass shootings between 1966 and 2022 maintained by The Violence Project, a nonprofit, includes only one carried out by someone 70 or older: a retired miner who killed five people in a store in Allen, Kentucky, in 1981.

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