Monterey Park Shooting and the Bravery of a Local Hero

On Jan. 21, before the celebration of the Lunar New Year, Monterey Park resulted in a tragedy when a man opened fire killing ten people and critically injuring eleven others inside the Star Ballroom Dance Studio.

A temporary memorial outside of the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, California, on January 23, 2023.  Credits: The New York Times/Photographer: Alisha Jucevic

The dance studio was known as a sanctuary for many older Asian Americans and immigrants to come together in the form of dance. Star Ballroom Dance Studio has provided many newcomers and regulars with a sense of a tight-knit community and is a staple to the city of Monterey Park.

At 10:22 p.m. gunfire was reported at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio where Monterey Park Police responded within three minutes of the first 9-1-1 call. 

“Chaos had erupted and ‘extensive carnage’ was seen upon the arrival of the dance studio”, said Monterey Park Chief of Police Scott Wiese.

“There were wounded people. There were people trying to flee out of all the doors,” Wiese said. “Inside, they came across a scene that none of them had been prepared for.”

An anonymous witness told sources, “I just saw him, to shoot, to hold the gun, so I run… and I hide myself.”

Based on eyewitnesses, Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said that the suspected individual was described as an Asian male between the age of 30 to 50.

At 10:45 p.m. the gunman appeared a few miles from the initial site shooting near the city of Alhambra at Lai Lai Ballroom & Studio.

Witness Brandon Tsay, 26, saw the gunman inside the dance studio lobby and wrestled the weapon out of his grasp before he fled. The incident can be caught on a surveillance camera.

“I’d like to take a second to also thank Mr. Brandon Tsay for his heroic action, which saved countless lives,” Luna said. “He’s the hero who disarmed the suspect at the Alhambra location and in my opinion saved many lives.” 

On Jan. 22, law enforcement identified the gunman as 72-year-old Huu Can Tran. There are no outstanding suspects, Luna concluded.

Law enforcement found Tran dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound inside a white van parked in a strip mall near Sepulveda and Hawthorne boulevards in Torrance.

“Did he plan this? Was it the day of? Was it a week before? What drove a madman to do this? We don’t know,” Luna said, saying that detectives were continuing to examine the case.

With no clear motive reported by official authorities, the community is devastated over their once sheltered studio becoming the place of one of California’s worst mass shootings in recent history. 

“The investigation continues … we want to know how something this awful can happen,” Luna said.

With many unanswered questions concerning the investigation and the Monterey Park area left in dismay, a community vigil was held on Jan. 24 to honor the victims and survivors.

On Jan. 29, Tsay was given the recognition of a hero by law enforcement and officials at a ceremony in his honor for disarming the Monterey Park suspect.

Brandon Tsay gratefully received the “Medal of Courage” from the Alhambra Police Department at The Lunar New Year remembrance ceremony. Credits: ABC/Photographer: Jim Ruymen/UPI/Shutterstock

A medal of courage from the Alhambra Police Department was given to Tsay who was praised by United States President Joe Biden for his heroic action. “Instead of running — Brandon said he thought he was going to die, but then he thought about the people inside,” President Biden said. “You know, it was a struggle that Brandon prevailed. But think about what could have happened had he not done this. I really mean it,” the president continued. “You know, I think sometimes we underestimate incredible acts of courage.”

At the ceremony, Tsay spoke about how he realized how short and fragile life was.

“I feel that we as a community should spend our precious time reaching out to one another. Most of the victims, I knew personally. They would always come by the dance studio, and I considered them friends. They were some of the most caring people I have ever met. And for them to be taken from us is such an excruciating experience.”

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