Vice President Kamala Harris, on Wednesday, Jan. 25, visited the scene of the worst mass shooting in Los Angeles County’s history to meet with the families of 11 people killed and another nine injured in Monterey Park.
Just after 5 p.m., Harris placed flowers — a large bouquet made up of white roses, yellow lilies, and palm fronds wrapped in white — on a memorial at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio, where the deadly attack took place late Saturday.
The VP is in Monterey Park — Kamala Harris left flowers and observed wreaths for each of the 11 victims of the Star Ballroom shooting. She then gave brief remarks demanding action on national gun reform. pic.twitter.com/qEu11gcBET
— Josh Cain (@joshpcain) January 26, 2023
Before placing the bouquet, she paused at each individual tribute for each victim.
“Tragically, we keep saying the same thing,” she said during brief remarks.
“I have had the unfortunate experience of visiting many of these sites sometimes within days of the massacre like this, we will always as a compassionate nation, mourn the loss train for those who survived and are recovering but we must also require that leaders in our nation will have the ability and the power and the responsibility to do something,” she added.
“Can this Congress do anything?,” Harris asked. “Yes. Should they do something? Yes. Will they do something? That is where we all must speak up and speak to our elected representatives about what we have a right to expect … But in the interest of the safety, the security and the wellbeing of people like those whose lives were ending here … they can.”
One mourner, Priscilla Wong, was among the first to lay down a bouquet of flowers after the vice president’s caravan left the scene of the massacre.
Falling to her knees, Wong wept, as reporters and cameras encircled her. Speaking in short sentences disrupted by her own screams, Wong said she knew many of the Monterey Park victims, including Diana Tom — a beloved dance instructor at Star Dance. “We danced together for 10 years over,” Wong said.
On Wednesday, Harris touched down at LAX just after 4:15 p.m. and was promptly greeted on the tarmac by L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis, Sheriff Robert Luna, L.A. Mayor Karen Bass, Mayor Henry Lo and Mayor Pro Tem Jose Sanchez from Monterey Park and state Attorney General Rob Bonta.
Harris met privately, behind closed doors, with family members on Wednesday and was also scheduled to meet with public officials, including Sheriff Luna.
The vice president’s visit coincided with a vigil outside the dance center, the fourth such gathering in three days in the heartbroken city that only a few days ago was in the midst of its Lunar New Year celebration.
BREAKING: The Star Ballroom & Dance Studio in #MontereyPark is an absolute media frenzy as Vice President Kamala Harris has arrived to meet with the families of the victims. pic.twitter.com/sSlMBweRJk
— Emily Holshouser (@emilyytayylor) January 26, 2023
Harris’ home state endured an eruption of shootings this week. On the heels of the dance hall attack, a shooting in Half Moon Bay, south of San Francisco, left seven people dead and one critically wounded on Monday. Later that day, a shootout at an Oakland gas station killed one and wounded seven.
Earlier this week, in comments made during her trip to Florida on Sunday, Harris declared that “this violence must stop.”
“A time of a cultural celebration … and yet another community has been torn apart by senseless gun violence,” Harris said, noting that the massacre took place during Lunar New Year celebrations in the area.
Harris spoke to a crowd in Tallahassee, Florida, before she began her speech to mark the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, which the current iteration of the high court overturned in June, ending federal protections for abortion rights. California voters, however, in November decided to add abortion rights to protections in the state constitution.
— Cassie Semyon (@casssemyon) January 26, 2023
For still shaken Monterey Park, the mass shooting remains something of a mystery. A motive for the 72-year-old gunman’s rampage has not been determined.
All day Wednesday, before the vice president’s arrival, the public memorials to the victims continued to grow — flowers and candles, burning incense and fruit, small items left by each person who came, whether they knew the victims personally or not.
This is Priscilla Wong. She says she knew several of the victims, including Diana Tom. Her rage, sadness, and anguish are palpable here tonight. She said she promised she wouldn’t come here, and she feels guilty. pic.twitter.com/CIG7GaB3nm
— Kristy Hutchings (she/her) (@krhutchings) January 26, 2023
Outside the Star Ballroom, mourners, alone or in small groups of one or two, came to pay their respects to the dead.
Lucy Chu, 73, looked at each wreath left for the 11 victims. By midmorning, there were photos of five of the dead. The other six stood empty.
Chu, a diminutive woman with a cane and short-cropped graying hair, couldn’t believe what she was seeing.
Her eyes peeked from just above her mask. She started to cry.
To her, the victims, their beaming faces wreathed in flowers, appeared young, full of life and happy — a stark contrast to the terror and violence they experienced three days ago.
“Too young!” Chu said.
To her, Monterey Park is a place to shop and eat, to eat cuisine from the Guangdong region of China. But the shooting may have changed things.
“It’s very unlucky here,” she said, tears running down her face.
“I don’t know why. I don’t know why…people are supposed to be happy for Chinese New Year.”
The deadly attack occurred at 10:22 p.m. Saturday at Star Ballroom Dance Studio, in the 100 block of West Garvey Avenue, according to Homicide Bureau Capt. Andrew Meyer of the LASD.
Huu Can Tran, 72, of Hemet opened fire inside the studio and, about 17 minutes later, he walked into Lai Lai Ballroom & Studio in nearby Alhambra, where police believe he was going to kill others, if not for the actions of Brandon Tsay, whose family operates the studio. Tsay rested away Tran’s gun, and kicked him out of the establishment.
Tran fled to Torrance, where he fatally shot himself, inside a white van in a parking lot after being surrounded by police, authorities said.
A picture has begun to haltingly develop of a gunman who once frequented the Monterey Park dance hall. He met his ex-wife at the dance hall, by offering her informal dance lessons. Tran had been known to have anger issues, according to reports, but was never violent toward her. He filed for divorce in 2005, and it became final a year later.
During a search of his home, investigators found a rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition and evidence that Tran was making firearm suppressors. Investigators also seized electronics.
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Tran lived in The Lakes at Hemet West, a mobile-home park on the west end of Hemet. He had a minimal criminal history, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna: A 1990 arrest for unlawfully possessing a firearm.
On Jan. 7 and Jan. 9, Tran visited the Hemet Police Department, city spokesperson Alan Reyes said, and accused family members living in the Los Angeles area of fraud and theft – and trying to poison him at least a decade ago.
He said he would return with documentation. But he never did.
Tran was quiet and kept to himself, according to one Hemet resident who lives in the same senior residential park.
Staff writers Josh Cain, Emily Holshouser and Hanna Lykke contributed to this report, as well as pool reporter Cassie Semyon of Spectrum News.