“He started prepping the weapon and something came over me,” the softly spoken Tsay recalled. “We struggled into the lobby, trying to get this gun away from each other. He was hitting me across the face, bashing the back of my head.
“Finally at one point I was able to pull the gun away from him, shove him aside, create some distance, point the gun at him, intimidate him and say: Get the hell out of here! I’ll shoot! Get away! Go!”
An hours-long manhunt to find Tran finally ended on Sunday afternoon when tactical teams surrounded a vehicle in Torrance that matched the description of the white cargo van in which he was believed to have fled. There, they discovered him slumped over in his vehicle, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
LA County Sherriff Robert Luna said officers issued a search warrant on the suspected gunman’s home in Hemet on Sunday and recovered a rifle, ammunition, electronic devices, and other items that led them to believe that the suspect was manufacturing silencers. Tran had also been arrested in 1990 for unlawful possession of a firearm, he said.
But the motive remains unclear – including whether the gunman had connections to any of his victims.
“We’re hearing there were possible relationships there, but I’m not going to confirm that yet,” Luna told reporters.
Four of the victims have now been identified by authorities: My Nhan, 65, Lilan Li, 63, and Xiujuan Yu, 57, and Valentino Alvero, 68.
In a tribute on Twitter, Nhan’s family described her as a person whose “smile and kindness was contagious”.
“She spent so many years going to the dance studio in Monterey Park on weekends. It’s what she loved to do,” they wrote. “But unfairly, Saturday was her last dance. We are starting the Lunar New Year broken. We never imagined her life would end so suddenly.”
The mass shooting in Monterey Park was the 33rd to take place so far this year, and the worst since last May’s Uvalde tragedy, in which 19 children and two teachers were killed when a 21-year-old gun opened fire at the Robb Elementary School in south Texas.
The latest incident happened during the weekend’s Lunar New Year celebration, initially raising fears of another hate crime against the Asian-American community, which has experienced an uptick of violence and discrimination since the pandemic.
While Tran’s Asian heritage has made the likely motive less clear-cut, authorities say “everything is on the table” in the effort to identify the motive.
As investigators continued to piece details together, it also emerged that Tran had recently visited police in Hemet, where he was living in a caravan park, to say that his family was poisoning him.
According to a statement from Hemet police, he attended the local police station January 7 and 9 “alleging past fraud, theft and poisoning allegations involving his family in the Los Angeles area 10 to 20 years ago. Tran stated he would return to the station with documentation but never returned.”
In Washington, President Joe Biden ordered American flags on federal government property to be flown at half-mast until Thursday at dawn “as a mark of respect for the victims of the senseless acts of violence”.
Back at the dance studio, a tight-knit community continues to grieve and some wonder what it will take to thwart America’s gun violence epidemic.
“I don’t want to take away guns, but maybe we could take a lesson from other countries, you know?” says Jan Alejandro. “It’s so frustrating because it doesn’t matter who’s in the White House or who is in Congress, they’re not getting anything done.”
School bus driver Inez Arakaki also came to pay tribute to the victims with her nine-year-old son Zachary.
“He’s been saying it would be nice to live in a place where they don’t have guns,” Arakaki tells The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
“I drive by here every day in my school bus. I know kids in the area. It’s scary. It’s scary to think that thousands of people were here at the Lunar New Year festival at 9 o’clock [just before the shooting].
“They came out to celebrate, especially after the pandemic. Everybody’s been locked up indoors and didn’t want to come out because of what’s going on – and then this happened. It’s devastating.”
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