How Monterey Park gunman entered, exited dance hall focus of police investigation

Monterey Park Police Chief Scott Wiese said on Tuesday, Jan. 24, that investigators were still looking into how the man who gunned down 11 people at a popular ballroom dance studio Saturday entered and exited the building that night.

Authorities said the suspect, 72-year-old Huu Can Tran, of Hemet, entered the Star Ballroom Dance Studio that night about 10:20 p.m., where he opened fire with a semi-automatic handgun on a room full of people.

He then fled the scene and traveled to neighboring Alhambra, where he was disarmed and kicked out before he fled again. Authorities caught up with him in a Torrance parking lot the following day, where they found him dead from a self-inflicted gunshot inside a large white van.

The Star Ballroom has a main entrance to the south and an emergency exit door on the west side of the building.

The Star Dance Studio in Monterey Park, CA Monday, January 23, 2023. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Others inside the ballroom used both exits in their attempts to escape, Wiese said.

But it remained unclear how Tran entered or exited.

When Wiese arrived, firefighters had a triage set up in a parking lot south of the main entrance, he said.

Inside, it was chaos.

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“It’s the way you would imagine,” Wiese said. “The victims didn’t know what was coming. They were in the middle of a party and the next thing you know, they’re shot.”

First responding officers were equipped with body-worn cameras, Wiese said, and data from those cameras was being still being gathered.

The cameras automatically start filming when an officer turns on the lights and sirens in their squad vehicles. But Wiese wasn’t sure if the officers activated lights and sirens, or if they turned them on manually — if at all — when they arrived.

Officers quickly secured the scene so that firefighters could get in and treat victims, Wiese said.

Investigators were still looking into the motive behind the attacks, the chief said.

“We have the facts, but we’re focusing on the motive,” Wiese said. “We may never know.”

The initial responding officers, while shaken, were doing better with the assistance of grief counselors at the station, the chief said.

An update on the injured victims was not available Tuesday afternoon, though Wiese said officials were looking into it. The identities of the 11 killed were released by the coroner’s office Tuesday morning.

Wiese himself described the tragedy as a tough assignment, especially for a new chief with a crew of less-experienced officers.

“What struck me was the randomness of the violence,” he said. “There was no warning whatsoever.”

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