Man Killed as Gunshots Fly at Van Nuys Dance

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A 19-year-old man was shot to death and two young women were wounded early Sunday when one or more assailants opened fire on a crowd of revelers outside a dance in Van Nuys, Los Angeles police said.

Police believe the shooting--which started after an argument between two females--might be the result of a long-standing rivalry between Asian gangs.

"We believe the Asian Boys are involved," said one detective who requested anonymity, referring to a predominantly Vietnamese gang that has been involved in several violent incidents during the past year in the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys.

Police had not yet identified any suspects in the case, which is being investigated by the LAPD's Asian Crime Investigation Section.

Authorities say Tony Nguyen was pronounced dead at Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills after being shot in the head and upper body.

Twenty-one-year-old Son Hoa Le, who was hit in the back of the head and also taken to Holy Cross, was reported in critical condition by police. Hospital officials refused to confirm or update her condition Sunday evening.

The third victim, a 16-year-old girl, was hospitalized at Northridge Hospital Medical Center. Police said her injury does not appear to be life-threatening.

The victims are suspected gang members, police said.

According to police and witnesses, the incident began about 12:45 a.m., when two young women began arguing in the parking lot of the Golden Valley Auditorium, where the dance was being held.

A witness, who declined to be identified, said that as the females argued, a male came up and punched one of them in the back of the head.

When security guards noticed the fight and that a large group had gathered in the parking lot, they ordered the music inside the auditorium shut off.

As the party-goers waited for the lights to come on, they heard shots being fired, and pandemonium broke out.

Witnesses, who reported hearing between six and 11 shots--said they thought they heard weapons of at least three different calibers--a .22, a 9-millimeter and a shotgun. Police confirmed that a shotgun was used.

"There was an argument outside and the next thing you know, someone starts shooting," said one reveler, who identified himself only as Joe.

Some ran outside, while others--thinking the shots were being fired inside the auditorium--dived for cover on the floor.

"Everyone went crazy. I thought the shooter had come back inside the club," said a party-goer who declined to give his full name.

Meanwhile, two armed security guards told people to stay inside and went outside to look for the shooter or shooters, but apparently could not locate any suspect in the crowd.

One witness said Nguyen stepped in front of Le in order to protect her.

Investigators and witnesses said some shots were fired from an area adjacent to the auditorium's parking lot, which abuts the Los Angeles River.

After the shooting, police discovered a hand grenade in a corner of the parking lot. After calling the bomb squad and blocking off a section of Sherman Way, authorities learned that the grenade was a dud. Police did not know whether the grenade was related to the shooting.

The party was advertised in flyers at local high schools and attracted a multiethnic group of about 350 or 400 people, mostly aged 16 to 25.

The party was patrolled by two armed security guards, who were stationed inside the club, and at least 10 unarmed guards, witnesses said.

Each person admitted to the dance was patted down after paying $10 to enter. The party featured disc jockeys and a separate room where alcohol was served to those 21 and over.

"It was going so smoothly and inside everything was peaceful," said one teenager, "but it's really hard to control what goes on outside."

Added one witness: "At least it wasn't inside, or a lot of people would've been hit."

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