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By Guillermo Azábal
The city of Monterey Park, 15 kilometers east of Los Angeles, witnessed a mass shooting Saturday night allegedly perpetrated by an Asian man who killed 10 people and wounded 10 others before committing suicide today when cornered by law enforcement.
The incident took place at 22.22 local time on Saturday (6.22 GMT Sunday) at a dance hall following the Chinese New Year festivities.
The shooter, who was using a semi-automatic pistol “probably stolen and illegal in California,” according to authorities, was the same person who 20 minutes later tried to open fire at another nightclub in Alhambra, 5 kilometers from Monterey Park, but where he was disarmed before fleeing.
Los Angeles County Police mounted an intensive operation beginning at midnight on Saturday night and located the individual just after noon on Sunday.
The body of the alleged perpetrator, identified as Huu Can Tran, was found inside a white van after he took his own life after being intercepted in an hours-long chase that ended in the parking lots of the Del Amo shopping center in Torrance, southwest Los Angeles.
Los Angeles Sheriff Robert Luna reported that the motive for the crime is still under investigation, but that law enforcement does not believe there are any other individuals involved in the killing.
U.S. President Joe Biden extended his condolences to the families of the deceased and injured, and ordered the country’s flags to fly at half-mast at all public buildings for the next four days as a sign of respect.
Monterey Park is a city of approximately 60,000 inhabitants whose census is made up of 65% people of Asian origin, according to official data.
The identities of the victims, seven of whom remain hospitalized, have not been released, but indications are that they were over 50 years of age.
Several thousand people had been celebrating the Lunar New Year at the hundreds of entertainment booths set up in the area until minutes before the shooter entered the club and opened fire indiscriminately.
“Officers arrived on the scene and observed numerous patrons leaving the premises screaming. When they entered, they located the victims,” Captain Andrew Meyer told reporters Sunday.
The neighbors of the area, totally “shocked”, were approaching throughout the day with disbelief to the large security device organized.
“People may think this is just another case, but not here. This is one of the quietest and safest areas in the county,” Jun Xiaozhe, a man who lives two blocks from the scene, told EFE.
The targeted assailant was of Asian origin, 5’7″ tall and weighing about 130 pounds, and in the photo distributed to facilitate his search he was wearing a jacket, glasses and a cap.
The case became entangled after it was found that his appearance matched that of a man who had staged an attempted shooting at another dance hall located in Alhambra just 20 minutes later.
After noon, police announced that they had located the possible shooter and a white van had been intercepted in the vicinity of the Del Amo shopping center in Torrance, 40 minutes from Monterey Park.
The operation was led by a team of elite security forces, commonly known by the acronym SWAT, in which several helicopters were used to chase for hours the vehicle whose driver committed suicide inside the passenger compartment after being cornered.
The site, closed to traffic, became for hours a meeting point for dozens of curious onlookers who had left the commercial enclave to record with their cell phones the police cordon and the flight of the aircraft.
Authorities such as the mayor of Torrance – Goerge Chen – defined the operation as “an example of cooperation between law enforcement agencies”, but the Monterey Park community will take time to recover from this tragedy.
The Chinese New Year celebrations, which were back after two years suspended due to Covid-19, were cancelled for Sunday and their continuity for the next few days is up in the air.
The attack occurred the same week that a shooting in the central California town of Goshen left six people dead, including a 17-year-old mother and her six-month-old baby, in an event that all indications are that it was linked to criminal activity by a drug cartel.
It is also one of the deadliest in California in the last decade, following the 2015 shooting of 14 people by a married couple at a work party in the city of San Bernardino and after the 2018 shooting in the town of Thousand Oaks, where a retired Marine killed 12 individuals in a bar before taking his own life.
However, the so-called “golden state” is one of the most restrictive in the sale and use of guns. To purchase a handgun you must be 21 years old; pass a shooting test; provide identification; and submit an application to the Department of Justice to confirm that you do not have a criminal record.