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Lunar New Year massacre raises fears of anti-Asian hate even as detectives seek motive

Police work near tents set up for Lunar New Year events.
Police work Sunday near the scene of a mass shooting the night before in Monterey Park.
(Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images)
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The shooting occurred on the night of a Lunar New Year celebration in an iconic city in the history of Asian immigration to the United States.

When it was over, 10 people were dead and 10 others wounded. Authorities said based on a preliminary description that the gunman was an Asian male.

But among rising violence and incidents of bias, the killings in this city on Saturday have sent shock waves and questions through the Asian community.

“This is [supposed to be] a happy time,” said Edwin Chen, a 47-year-old delivery dispatcher, who rushed to Monterey Park early Sunday after hearing news of the massacre. “It’s still shocking.”

A deadly mass shooting inside a Monterey Park dance studio led authorities to Torrance on Sunday, where the suspected gunman died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a strip mall parking lot.

Jan. 22, 2023

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Officials stressed they are far from determining a motive in the attack.

Asked whether the case was being investigated as a hate crime, Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said: “Everything is on the table. ... Who walks into a dance hall and guns down 20 people?”

Hours before the shooting, crowds were enjoying skewers and shopping for Chinese food and jewelry at a Lunar New Year festival next to the shooting site, in the 100 block of West Garvey Avenue.

Monterey Park’s two-day Lunar New Year festival had been scheduled to conclude Sunday. But additional events were canceled “out of an abundance of caution and in reverence for the victims,” Monterey Park Police Chief Scott Wiese said.

Another festival set for Sunday at the USC Pacific Asia Museum also has been canceled. “All of us ... are heartbroken to hear about the horrific violence that happened in our home in the San Gabriel Valley,” Bethany Montagano, the museum director, said in a statement. “Our hearts mourn with the victims’ families and our community members at this time.”

Several other festivals were scheduled to continue Sunday as planned. Police are vowing extra security.

Luna said he would be attending a Lunar New Year celebration later Sunday. “I encourage people to go out and enjoy the events.”

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Eleven people are dead after a man opened fire in a dance studio in Monterey Park. Police believe the shooter also targeted an Alhambra studio. Here’s what we know.

Jan. 25, 2023

In California, hate crimes against Asian Americans saw another year of triple-digit percentage increases in 2021, with crimes increasing 177.5% from 2020 to 2021, according to a state report.

Anti-Asian crimes have become a larger portion of the state’s hate crimes involving race. Two years ago, about 8% of race-based hate crimes involved Asian Americans. In 2021, that number rose to 21%.

A poll released in March showed that two-thirds of Asian Americans in Los Angeles County are worried about being a victim of a racial attack, and a strong majority want police funding increased or kept the same.

Of those polled, 80% said anti-Asian racism has been a serious problem during the pandemic, with 36% saying it’s an extremely serious issue.

Nearly a quarter said someone has verbally or physically abused them or damaged their property during the pandemic because of their race or ethnicity.

“I hope we can make a determination as to whether this was a hate crime,” Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) said, describing the Lunar New Year as a time to celebrate with family. “This tore a hole through all of our hearts.”

Regardless of the motive, Chu added, “Unfortunately I have now become a member of a club of members of Congress who’ve had a mass shooting in their district. It has been happening on a daily basis now, and you can barely keep count of these mass shootings. Something has to be done.”

The number of hate crimes in California rose for the third year in a row, according to an annual report from the state Department of Justice.

June 28, 2022

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L.A. Mayor Karen Bass expressed similar concerns.

“The reports coming out of Monterey Park are absolutely devastating. Families deserve to celebrate the holidays in peace — mass shootings and gun violence are a plague on our communities. As investigations determine whether these murders were motivated by Asian hate, we continue to stand united against all attempts to divide us,” she said in a statement.

On Sunday, the California Latino Legislative Caucus issued a statement saying it “stands in solidarity with our colleagues in the Asian American and Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus and the API community in California and beyond to denounce these horrific and senseless attacks.”

“It is especially devastating that this tragedy occurred on the eve of the Lunar New Year, the most important holiday in many API communities,” Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes (D-Riverside) and Sen. Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach) said in the statement.

Justin Zhu, co-founder of Stand With Asian Americans, said in a statement Sunday: “We are devastated by the news of the shootings on Lunar New Year. The violence must stop. Right now we feel as though we can’t even celebrate with our families and loved ones without fear.”

Connie Chung Joe, CEO of Asian Americans Advancing Justice Southern California, emphasized in a statement that the cause of the shootings is not yet known. But, she said, “We join you in your grief and pain that this attack has happened in one of our major Asian American neighborhoods, so close to an event that celebrates our community.”

Monterey Park has for decades been considered a gateway for Chinese immigration, with a bustling business district of restaurants, shops, community centers and other services catering to the community. According to data, 65% of the residents are Asian, and the city has a low crime rate.

David Zhang lives a few blocks from the shooting scene and said Sunday that he was reeling.

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“I feel like I don’t know the city anymore,” said Zhang, 22. “Not in a lifetime would I think something of this scale would happen in Monterey Park.”

Times staff writers Erin B. Logan and Anh Do contributed to this report.

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