Dance studio killer likely fueled by hatred toward instructors, says former tenant

Huu Can Tran harbored a deep hatred for instructors at the Star Dance Studio where he killed 11 patrons and wounded nine others Saturday, delusionally believing they were jealous of him, a man who rented a small home from the gunman said Tuesday

“He distrusted people,” said the man, who asked not to be identified because his doesn’t want public exposure. “If something offended him, he would become very angry and hate someone to their guts.”

The man said he moved into Tran’s San Gabriel home about 15 years ago and lived there for about eight years. Tran, 72, lived in a “cabin” at the back of the property.

Tran’s life seemed to center around the Star Dance Studio, where he was a “freelance instructor,” giving free lessons to the women who agreed to dance with him, the man said. Tran wanted to show other instructors how well he could dance and teach, he said.

“He led a simple life, didn’t have job, and every night at 8 p.m. would dress up and go to Star studio,” the former tenant said. “He didn’t have any other place to go. It was the only place that made him happy. It shows he was only interested in dance.”

Tran also routinely frequented the Lai Lai Ballroom & Studio in nearby Alhambra, which he entered with a semi-automatic pistol shortly after the Star Dance shooting. He was quickly disarmed by a man whose family operated the dance studio and then fled, leaving the weapon behind.

Tran often complained about instructors at both Star Dance and the Lai Lai Ballroom, the man said.

“Sometimes he brought sentiments to me that the dance instructors didn’t like him,” the former tenant said. “He thought he wasn’t welcome. He did not like the instructors as well and spoke evil of them.”

The man said he occasionally went to Star Dance and the Lai Lai Ballroom where he watched Tran, whom he described as a good dancer and teacher. He didn’t observe any tensions between Tran and the other instructors.

“There were no facts that people were trying to hurt him or treat him bad,” the man said. “It was only a delusion.”

On Sunday, just hours after the Star Dance shootings that killed six women and five men, Tran died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound inside his van with stolen license plates as police closed in following a traffic stop in Torrance.

Torrance police were on the lookout for a white van matching the description of the one driven by Tran, Sgt. Ron Salary said. The officers who pulled over the van noted that the license plate did not match the van. The plate belonged to a 1999 Chevrolet van and Tran was driving a 2007 Chevrolet van.

“The actions of the officers to stop the vehicle were primarily the result of really good, proactive police work,” Salary said. “Obviously, the situation immediately escalated once the suspect pulled over.”

Tran’s former tenant disputed claims on social media that the shootings at Star Dance and the subsequent attempted attack at the Lai Lai Ballroom were motivated by Tran’s rage after being spurned by a romantic interest who was at one of the studios.

“There were no girlfriends who unfairly treated him that night,” the man said. “He was probably thinking there was no future for his life. There was no fun, family, and no happiness and he decided to commit this crime.”

Tran divorced his former wife in 2005, according to Los Angeles County Superior Court records. The couple had no children, the man said. Phone calls to Tran’s ex-wife were not returned. Public records also show that Tran at one time owned a trucking company.

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After Tran sold his San Gabriel home, the man and the gunman rented an apartment in Arcadia. However, they lived together for only two months because Tran became angry after the man returned from an overseas trip. The man moved out and Tran refused to return his share of the deposit for the apartment.

“He had a strange personality,” the man said. “He would go to the extreme. We could not live under the same roof.”

In 2015, the man won a $750 judgment in Alhambra Small Claims Court against Tran over the rental deposit dispute. He said it was the last time he saw Tran, who he believes was driven to attack Star Dance, and Lai Lai Ballroom because felt unwelcomed.

“He was lonely and led a simple life because nobody was really close to him,” the man said. “I firmly believe the motive was his hatred toward a lot of people at Star studio and Lai Lai. There were a lot of people at both places who he hated so much.”

Staff Writer Brian Rokos contributed to this report.

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