Community seeks answers after deadly Lunar New Year shooting in California

Authorities in California are trying to determine the motive behind the shooting in Monterey Park that killed 11 people celebrating the Lunar New Year. It's the deadliest shooting the U.S. has seen since 19 children and two teachers were killed last June in Uvalde, Texas. Amna Nawaz reports from Monterey Park and spoke with Rep. Judy Chu about the latest community affected by mass gun violence.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    Good evening.

    We begin tonight with the deadly epidemic of gun violence in America, a problem with no letup in sight. In California, authorities are trying to determine the motive behind this weekend's shooting in Monterey Park. The community is grieving over the attack that left at least 11 people dead.

    Today, in Des Moines, Iowa, two students were killed and a teacher was injured during a shooting at a charter school. Multiple suspects were taken into custody.

    And, in Baton Rouge, a shooting at a nightclub injured a dozen people.

    Amna Nawaz is in Monterey Park — Amna.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Geoff, once again, the headline we're reporting is another mass shooting in America, according to the Gun Violence Archive, the 33rd such mass shooting in this calendar year alone and the deadliest mass shooting the country has seen since 19 children and two teachers were killed last year in Uvalde, Texas.

    Monterey Park, California, this quiet, tight-knit community outside of Los Angeles, is now bound into the sisterhood of cities and communities forever changed by this uniquely American problem of mass gun violence.

    A city that two days ago was bustling with lunar new year celebrations now mostly quiet. In downtown Monterey Park, makeshift memorials to the victims of Saturday night's dance hall rampage.

    Sixty-year-old Jack Yang came to pay his respects this morning. He's lived here for three decades and often went to the Star Dance Studio. He said his friend was killed there Saturday night.

  • Jack Yang, Monterey Park Resident:

    I'm very sad. Yes, my good friend, a very nice man.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    When he arrived at City Hall this morning, Monterey Park Mayor Henry Lo was still processing the devastation. The population in this city of about 60,000 is 65 percent Asian, mostly Chinese immigrants and first generation Asian Americans.

    Lo said the timing of the shooting, with decorative lanterns and celebratory signs still hanging, makes it that much more painful.

    Henry Lo, Mayor of Monterey Park, California: The lunar new year, it's a time of renewal, of optimism for the future. And so it was, in a sense, a celebration, a triumph that we had made it through the ravages of the pandemic. And we had our carnival near the incident of the shooting.

    And so it's just cast a pall. And it has been I think very — I think a lot of people are still in disbelief that this happened.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Officials today revealed that all but one of the victims were in their 60s and 70s.

    These are people who either came here or spent most of their lives working towards some higher vision of what this country could be.

  • Henry Lo:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    For them to lose their lives in this way, how does that sit with you?

  • Henry Lo:

    It doesn't sit well with me. In fact, I was just thinking — I was reflecting last night. I was just thinking — oh, excuse me.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I'm so sorry.

  • Henry Lo:

    That — to hurt people, the victims, their families, the survivors, their lives are shattered. And they won't be able to enjoy things that I enjoy, so simple, so just expected during the holidays, and as I feel for them.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Late Sunday, authorities identified the gunman as 72-year-old Huu Can Tran. He was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a white van that authorities cornered about 30 miles from the dance hall.

    He fled Monterey Park after people at a second dance hall in the nearby city of Alhambra wrestled away his gun. Police said the weapon was a semiautomatic pistol with an extended magazine, and they found a second handgun in his van.

    Elizabeth Yang's law firm sits across the street from the Star Dance Studio. The 40-year-old dances there every Monday. She was welcomed, she says, by the older generation of dancers who frequented that space. After the shooting, her phone was flooded with messages and images from other studio goers.

  • ELIZABETH YANG, Monterey Park Resident:

    Star Ballroom has been here a long time. It is a big part of our community. It brings people together. It brings elderly people together, and it gives them a way to stay fit and healthy.

    So I would hate to see that business go under, and I'm going to continue supporting it myself. And I don't want this one-off incident to make people feel like Monterey Park is not a safe city, because it's a very safe city, and I love living in the city.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Today, the identities of other victims began trickling out. The Los Angeles County Coroner's Office released the names of two women killed, 65-year-old My Nhan and 63-year-old Lilan Li.

    Back at the scene of the shooting, residents are now grappling with how to move forward; 27-year-old Johnathan Luc lives less than a block from here. He moved to Monterey Park about three years ago because it was because he loved the food scene.

  • Johnathan Luc, Monterey Park Resident:

    It's the kind of place where you walk home and you smell people cooking their dinner right at 6:00. They're cooking dinner for their family.

    What does something like this do to a community? It's very quiet. That's a big reason why I love this neighborhood. And I was scared that everything was going to change. And it might. I don't know yet, right?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    This place that residents call overwhelmingly safe, calm and tight-knit now the latest pin on America's horrific map of mass shootings.

    And we are learning new details today about that gunman, including his connection to the Star Dance Studio behind me. He did use to come here, according to a statement from his ex-wife. They, in fact, met here years ago.

    We are also learning new details from local officials, who are now reportedly saying that the gunman had recently come to law enforcement authorities in the nearby town of Hemet and claimed that his own family members were trying to target and poison him.

    Geoff, this obviously raises a number of additional questions authorities will be looking to answer in the days and weeks ahead.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Amna, what more have you learned about Monterey Park and the people who call it home?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You know, Geoff, I think you and I know, having covered a number of these, there are things that tie communities together when they're touched by this kind of gun violence, the disbelief, the grief, the long tail of trauma.

    But these communities are specific and unique in their own ways. Here in Monterey Park, it's a point of pride for people. They do boast that this is the first majority Asian American city in the entire continental United States. And they also point out that the same generation that helped to build this community over the last 40 and 50 years and make it what it is today were among those who lost their lives in Saturday's killing.

    They also do make clear, though, that they think that same sense of resilience and perseverance and hope that made this community what it is today is what will get people through in the days and weeks and months ahead.

    Few people understand that sense of community better than my next guest.

    Joining me here in Monterey Park, California, is the U.S. representative from California's 28th Congressional District, Judy Chu.

    Congresswoman, thank you so much for joining us.

  • Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA):

    Thank you for having me.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    This is your hometown.

  • Rep. Judy Chu:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You were mayor here.

    What did you think when you heard the news?

  • Rep. Judy Chu:

    I was horrified. I was stunned.

    This is a peaceful, quiet town. It's a suburb. It's a great place to raise kids. And to think that there could be this horrific violence happening right in the middle of it, where 11 lives now have been taken away from us and the remainder are still in the hospital, some with very, very serious conditions, this is something that I could not have imagined.

    But what was even more terrifying yesterday was the fact that the shooter was loose, he was out in the community. And so many members of the community were so afraid. They were terrified that, if they go to an event, he could come and shoot at them too.

    We tried to reassure them, but that you could still see the fear in their eyes. So, when 5:00 came, and the press conference came where he was declared captured and that he killed himself, there was relief in the community.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We have seen those reports today, obviously, about his connection to the studio…

  • Rep. Judy Chu:

    Thank you.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    … about local officials expressing concern.

    What else have you learned about the gunman?

  • Rep. Judy Chu:

    Well, he certainly was an avid ballroom dancer. He seemed to think his skills were pretty high.

    He met his wife here. And she says that he criticized her for her misses in the dance moves. And then he divorced her in 2005. So, she said he was quick to anger. And I suspect that has something to do with what happened here.

    I do not know what ultimately made him snap like that. But, clearly, he had a connection with these two studios.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What about the weapon? I mean, we have read it's a semiautomatic pistol, officials have confirmed, with an extended magazine.

    That particular firearm is illegal here in California. How did he get it?

  • Rep. Judy Chu:

    Who knows. Actually, that is on top of my list of questions about what happened.

    I want to know how he obtained these guns, because that's only the second gun. The first gun, still, the identity of it that hasn't been released. But I want to know how he got that one. And I want to know whether he went through the background checks or whether he evaded it, like so many other Americans who try to evade it by not going through a typical store, but instead doing an online purchase or a gun store purchase or a private purchase.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Those are all questions you still don't have answers to?

  • Rep. Judy Chu:

    No, we don't.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You spoke with President Biden today…

  • Rep. Judy Chu:

    I did.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    … you tweeted earlier. Did he make any pledges to you about additional executive action he can take when it comes to gun safety?

  • Rep. Judy Chu:

    Well, he was focused, first of all, on the victims and making sure that they got the help that they needed.

    He pledged all the support that they needed. He also pledged support from the federal agencies. And, actually, I do have to give them much praise, because, right from the beginning, the FBI was there. ATF, the U.S. attorney's office, they were there backing up the L.A. County Sheriff's and the Monterey Park Police Department.

    So we have had the full level of law enforcement. And that's why this man was captured even before 24 hours were done.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We should note, President Biden has long urged Congress to take additional action when it comes to gun safety and legislation around that.

    It was last year that it took nearly 30 years, multiple mass shootings for there to be limited bipartisan gun safety reform that made it through a Democratic-led Congress.

  • Rep. Judy Chu:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Is there any hope for additional reform in this divided Congress?

  • Rep. Judy Chu:

    We have to fight for it. We have to take a step forward wherever we can. It was a limited bill.

    But I did take pride in the fact that it actually passed after 30 years of nothing, I still think that we should put at the top of the list true universal background checks, because those have proven to save lives by keeping guns out of the hands of violent and criminal people.

    And the reason I say true is because so many people use those loopholes by buying online or through a private purchase. So we have to close that gap.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Is there hope for that in a Republican-led House?

  • Rep. Judy Chu:

    Well, we have to see what we can do.

    Americans have to raise their voices and show how important this is to them, and especially those living in the districts of those members of Congress who are resistant to this, because those congressmembers could be the next ones with a mass shooting in their district.

    Their constituents could be the victims, their neighbors, their family members, their loved ones. So, until we stop this proliferation of gun violence, none of us will be safe.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What do you want people to understand about this particular community that you know so well, what they have been through and what they will go through ahead?

  • Rep. Judy Chu:

    This is a community that is very tight-knit.

    It's a community that is a great place to raise kids. There's a high quality of life. There is a park within every mile of a home. And, of course, we have the greatest Chinese food in the world, I believe.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We have heard that from several people.

  • Rep. Judy Chu:

    We value diversity. We have a 65 percent Asian population.

    That's why our lunar new year celebration was so big. We had 100,000 people there. And we were doing the opening ceremony just one block away from where the shooting was taking place.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And you were there, right, just hours before it happened.

  • Rep. Judy Chu:

    I — that's the thing. Yes, it was only hours away from when the shooting took place.

    And so it certainly was a horrific way to start the lunar new year, which is the most important holiday for Asians across this world. People were really looking forward to this one because this celebration had been on hiatus for three years due to COVID. So there was so much energy around being there in person with one another, and hopefully going towards normalcy.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Yes. We hope that does come ahead. We have heard a lot about the resilience of this community.

    Congresswoman Judy Chu, thank you so much for joining us.

  • Rep. Judy Chu:

    Thank you so much.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Geoff, as you have heard here, of course, stories of pain and grief, as we know, a long tail of trauma ahead in these communities, but also resilience and hope that things can at some point get back to normal — Geoff.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Amna Nawaz in Monterey Park, California, tonight.

    Amna, thank you.

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