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LOS ANGELES — The suspect in Saturday night’s Lunar New Year mass shooting in Southern California was identified Sunday after he appeared to have died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, authorities said.
“The suspect in that tragedy is no longer with us,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said. “He is no longer a threat.”
Luna named the man as Huu Can Tran, 72. The question why, however, in the attack that killed 10 people and injured 10 others at a Monterey Park dance hall, remained.
“We still are not clear on a motive,” Luna said at an early evening news conference Sunday. “We want to know.”
Earlier, sources familiar with the investigation said the person in a white van subjected to a traffic stop in the coastal city of Torrance, about 30 miles from the violence, fit the description of a person seen at crime scenes in Monterey Park and adjacent Alhambra.
Luna said authorities believe the deceased person is indeed the suspect seen at both locations.
Authorities, including SWAT officers, surrounded and then breached the van, where the person was found dead in the early afternoon, Luna said. The vehicle had plates “that didn’t belong on the vehicle,” he said.
A search of the van turned up “several pieces of evidence” that linked the suspect to the crime scenes in neighboring San Gabriel Valley cities, Luna said. A handgun was also found in the van, he said.
Monterey Park police officers first responded to a dance hall, identified in government records as Star Ballroom Dance, after reports of a shooting came in at 10:22 p.m. Saturday, Luna said. People were rushing out of the hall as officers went into the business.
Ten people were killed at the venue, and 10 others were taken to hospitals in conditions from stable to critical, Luna said. Four were being treated at LAC + USC Medical Center, the hospital confirmed.
Authorities were still working to identify the victims. Luna reported that five were women and five were men. He later said many were in their 50s, 60s and “beyond.”
Asked whether the case was being investigated as a hate crime, Luna said, “Everything is on the table.”
He described the suspected mass shooting weapon, recovered at the second crime scene, as a “magazine-fed semi-automatic pistol.” He said he doesn’t believe it is legal to possess in California.
The possibility of a hate crime was part of the investigation, but authorities were also trying to determine whether the suspect knew any of the victims, Luna said. That aspect of the investigation will take time, he said, as the county coroner was still working on identifying victims.
“We don’t know if this is specifically a hate crime defined by law, but who walks into a dance hall and guns down 20 people?” Luna said earlier in the day. “The description we have now is of a male Asian. Does that matter? I don’t know. I can tell you that everything’s on the table.”
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Late Saturday, Monterey Park police and fire units could be seen swarming the area in videos posted to social media. Others showed victims being transferred to ambulances.
About 20 minutes after the shooting in Monterey Park, a man described as Asian entered another dance hall with a firearm, Luna said.
Luna said two community members disarmed the man before he fled in a white van. The sheriff described the community members as heroes and said they saved lives.
Luna had said at an earlier briefing that he believed the Alhambra incident was connected to the Monterey Park shooting but that investigators were looking at all possibilities.
Thousands of people had gathered for a Lunar New Year Festival in Monterey Park, a city of about 60,000, about two-thirds of whom are Asian American. It is about 10 miles east of Los Angeles.
More than 50% of the residents in Alhambra say they’re Asian American, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The two-day festival features “food booths with various types of delectable items, amusement rides, and lots of live entertainment,” according to the city’s website.
Previous festivals have drawn crowds of more than 100,000 visitors a day, the city’s website says, attracting crowds from throughout Southern California.
Monterey Park Mayor Henry Lo said the site of the shooting, Star Ballroom Dance, was hosting a Lunar New Year’s Eve celebration in anticipation of Sunday’s new calendar, which marks the year of the rabbit.
“We should be celebrating,” Monterey Park Police Chief Scott Wiese said at Sunday evening’s news conference. “But we can’t.”
California Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted Sunday night that he visited Monterey Park earlier to meet with local officials. “The strength of this community is incredible,” he said.
He doubled down on his support for stricter gun regulation, though he did not mention specifics.
“No other country in the world is terrorized by this constant stream of gun violence,” Newsom said. “We need real gun reform at a national level.”
President Joe Biden said in an early evening statement that he’s praying that the injured will recover. He said federal support for victims would be available.
“I directed my Homeland Security Advisor to mobilize full federal support to local and state authorities as they continue to respond and investigate this shooting,” Biden said. “I want to assure the community of Monterey Park and the broader area that we will support you in every way we can.”
Wiese told reporters: “I’m monitoring this situation closely as it develops and urge the community to follow guidance from local officials and law enforcement in the hours ahead.”
Sunday’s Lunar New Year Festival in Monterey Park was canceled out of respect for the victims, he said.
Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., offered her condolences at the news conference. Chu not only represents the district, but she has also lived in Monterey Park for 37 years, and she was the city’s mayor after having been elected in 1990.
“It is horrible that such a thing could occur at a time of celebration for so many in the AAPI community and in the Asian community worldwide,” Chu said, using the initialism for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. “This is a time to be with family to celebrate, and yet this tore a hole through all of our hearts.”
The shooting stunned those familiar with the normally quiet area.
Simu Liu, who portrays the warrior Shang-Chi in Marvel’s first Asian superhero movie, tweeted that he was “shocked and saddened” by the incident.
“It’s home of Asian American families, parents, grandparents, siblings, sons and daughters, aunts and uncles. All of whom were looking forward to celebrating the New Year this weekend,” he said.
The latest violence comes two months after five people were killed at a nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Linda Takahashi reported from Los Angeles, Cristian Santana and Doha Madani from New York and Leila Sackur from London.
Doha Madani is a senior breaking news reporter for NBC News. Pronouns: she/her.
Andrew Blankstein is an investigative reporter for NBC News. He covers the Western U.S., specializing in crime, courts and homeland security.
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