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Monterey Park shooting survivors dance in defiance — and to heal

Couples dance on a dance floor.
Hattie Peng, a survivor of the Monterey Park shooting, dances with Jimmy Choi, right, at the Elks Lodge on June 21, 2023, in San Gabriel.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
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Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, July 31.

It’s been half a year since a gunman opened fire at a beloved dance studio in Monterey Park, killing 11 people and injuring nine others. More dancers who weren’t shot at the Star Ballroom that night were left with invisible wounds.

“Six months later, the tragedy has left many survivors in the depths of depression and anxiety,” Times reporter Summer Lin writes. “But it also has brought fellow dancers together, forging new relationships. Some have joined in the fight for stronger gun control measures. Others have realized how much they need dancing in their lives.”

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Lin spoke with Lloyd Gock, a 67-year-old Alhambra resident who survived the shooting. He resolved to continue going out to dance, though less frequently than he had before.

“If you stop dancing, then the shooter got what he wanted, which is to terrorize us into not being able to dance,” he told Lin. “That was his whole main purpose. I was advocating for everyone to come back to dancing.”

While Lloyd and some others have returned to the dance floor, some of his fellow survivors have struggled to go out anywhere.

One survivor named Amy had been to the Star Ballroom only once before the night of the shooting. Her dance partner, Valentino Alvero, was killed, along with her two friends, Xiujuan Yu and Lilian Li.

Amy has trouble eating, sleeping and going to work. She doesn’t go out much and so far hasn’t sought therapy.

“I tried not to think about the incident, but it would show up in my mind, and I couldn’t stop it,” she told Lin. “I would be frightened so severely. I could see the bloody scene and was so scared to relive the event. Once it showed up in my mind, I couldn’t sleep at all.”

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The ballroom holds a special place in the hearts of many living in or near Monterey Park, which has long been an enclave for L.A. County’s Asian American community. Lin wrote:

For decades, the tightknit dance community in Monterey Park found refuge at Star Ballroom. After the studio opened in the 1990s, dance enthusiasts flocked to take lessons, attend parties under the glittering disco ball or belt out songs in the studio’s karaoke room.

The Jan. 21 mass shooting was the 34th of 2023 in the U.S. There have been more than 400 across the country so far this year.

Gock has been advocating for stronger gun control laws, including banning large-capacity magazines and assault weapons. He’s also calling for stricter “red flag” laws, allowing states to seize guns and ammunition from people found to be a danger to themselves or others.

He also created a monthly support group for those affected by the Star Ballroom shooting.

“I think part of the purpose of why I didn’t get shot, and maybe I didn’t die, is to do this,” Gock said. “At that time, I needed to get the group together. We’re all traumatized. And hopefully, we’ll go into recovery.”

You can read Summer Lin’s full reporting here.

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And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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L.A. STORIES

Sure, the summer solstice is the official start of the hot season, but there’s another indicator in greater L.A.: when bears start hopping into pools. That seasonal sign happened in Burbank over the weekend when a bear cooled off in a backyard spa — and looked quite relaxed before wildlife officials arrived. Los Angeles Times

Video still of a bear hanging out in a hot tub in Burbank.
(Burbank Police Department)

A new study from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority indicates about one out of every six homeless people who participated in L.A. Mayor Karen Bass’ Inside Safe initiative has left their housing facility or left the program entirely. While the figures could change as officials work to refine their data, the retention rate highlights the challenges to connect people with housing — both interim and permanent — and help them stay housed. Los Angeles Times

POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

Recent state interventions in local school board decisions could mark the beginning of a drawn-out culture war clash. Gov. Gavin Newsom and other state leaders have demonstrated a willingness to pursue fines, investigations and condemnations in response to conservative challenges to LGBTQ+ issues and other inclusive policies. CalMatters

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Trump supports gather and hold signs, one reading "let all delagates vote."
Trump supporters gathered outside of a California GOP executive committee meeting to protests a change in the state’s delegation-allocation rules on July 29 at Marriott Hotel in Irvine.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

California’s GOP leaders have changed their rules for allocating delegates in the state’s presidential primary, sparking anger from some party members. “Although demonstrators argued that the state party leadership was trying to undermine the former president,” Times reporter Seema Mehta wrote, “the decision by the California GOP’s executive committee reflects a concerted effort by the Trump campaign to mold state party rules across the country to benefit his candidacy.” Los Angeles Times

CRIME, COURTS AND POLICING

In 2020, L.A. County voters approved a criminal justice reform measure that would have invested millions in social services and community-based jail diversion programs. Measure J was struck down by an L.A. County Superior Court judge in 202. But on Friday, a panel of three state appellate judges reversed that decision, deeming the initiative constitutional. Los Angeles Times

Recent California rules regarding client trust accounts led the California State Bar to suspend more than 1,600 attorneys. Those rules were established in response to L.A. attorney Thomas Girardi‘s alleged theft of millions of dollars from his clients, though these suspensions are due to noncompliance with the reporting rules and don’t mean the affected lawyers have stolen any client money. Los Angeles Times

A riot broke out at a juvenile hall in Downey late Saturday, leading to lockdown. Officials at the Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall said 13 detainees assaulted guards, breached their units and attempted to climb the walls to escape. Los Angeles Times

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Part of the Santa Clarita Valley is under agricultural quarantine after an invasive fruit fly was detected. The California Department of Food and Agriculture said the quarantine was the first of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. Los Angeles Times

Global warming has played a key role in the dramatic shrinking of the Colorado River, a team of UCLA researchers reports. Scientists estimated rising temperatures over the past couple of decades led to the loss of about 32.5 million acre-feet of water in the Colorado River Basin — and warned the vital water supply will continue to shrink as our climate warms. Los Angeles Times

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

Something will be missing from this year’s Klamath Salmon Festival in Northern California: the salmon. Leaders of the Yurok Tribe say their decision was prompted by the dwindling Chinook salmon population in the Klamath River (and it’s not the first time the titular fish has been missing from festival’s menu). Los Angeles Times

An ancient sport has found new life in San Diego and beyond. Californians with Indigenous heritage have reclaimed ulama, a popular Mesoamerican tradition that had been banned by Catholic conquistadors. Modern players see it as an active form of decolonization and a way to connect with their ancestral roots. KPBS

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AND FINALLY

Today’s California landmark is from Elaine Chernov of Los Angeles: Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park, which Elaine calls “stunning in the setting afternoon sun.”

Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park, photographed in April 2022.
(Elaine Chernov)
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What are California’s essential landmarks? Fill out this form to send us your photos of a special spot in California — natural or human-made. Tell us why it’s interesting and what makes it a symbol of life in the Golden State. Please be sure to include only photos taken directly by you. Your submission could be featured in a future edition of the newsletter.

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.

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