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‘I was gonna die here’: How a man disarmed the Monterey Park shooter

Brandon Tsay speaks with the media
Brandon Tsay, who disarmed the Monterey Park mass shooter Huu Can Tran when he entered the Lai Lai Ballroom in Alhambra, stands alongside his father, Tom Tsay, as he speaks with the media.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
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The dance social at Lai Lai Ballroom & Studio was nearly over Saturday night, with just a few people left on the ballroom floor. Brandon Tsay, whose family owns the Alhambra studio and who works at the ticket office, was in the lobby looking into the studio when he heard the front door close, followed by the sound of metal clinking, he said.

“That’s when I turned around and saw there was an Asian man holding a gun,” Tsay told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “My first thought was I was gonna die here. This was it.”

Tsay said the man appeared to be looking around the room “for targets” and “people to harm.”

The dance studio targeted after the Monterey Park shooting reopened Monday for lessons only, while a local businessman talked about the shock in the community.

Jan. 23, 2023

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In interviews with the New York Times and ABC, the 26-year-old said that he lunged at the man with both his hands, setting off a struggle in the lobby for control of the gun. “I needed to take this weapon, disarm him or else everybody would have died,” Tsay told “Good Morning America.”

The gunman was hitting him across the face and bashing the back of his head, he said. Tsay said he eventually shoved the man aside and grabbed the gun. He pointed it at the man and yelled, “Get the hell out of here!” he said. “I’ll shoot, get away! Go!”

Tsay said the man lingered for a few moments before walking out the door and getting into his van. Tsay said he called police “with the gun still in my hand.”

He told ABC that he did not recognize the man.

On Monday, Tsay told reporters outside his home in San Marino that he would prefer the public to focus on the victims and not his own heroic act.

“You have my deepest condolences,” Brandon Tsay said, addressing the victims and their families. “Some of these people I know personally. They come to our studio. It’s a tight-knit community, and I hope they can heal from this tragic event.”

Search warrants at the home of Huu Can Tran uncovered weapons, ammunition and items that led officials to suspect he was manufacturing firearm suppressors.

Jan. 23, 2023

Tsay said that when he tackled the gunman, identified by authorities as 72-year-old Huu Can Tran of Hemet, he was unaware that just 20 minutes earlier, Tran had killed 10 people and injured several others when he opened fire in a crowded ballroom in nearby Monterey Park.

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The death toll rose to 11 Monday after the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services announced in a statement that one of the victims being treated at LAC+USC Medical Center succumbed to their injuries.

Tom Tsay, Brandon’s father, rushed to the Alhambra dance studio after learning about the shooting, gripped with fear.

“The first thing I did was ask whether Brandon was OK,” Tom Tsay said in an interview outside of the family’s San Marino home early Monday, adding that his daughter reassured him Brandon was safe.

The first 10 victims in the massacre in Monterey Park after a Lunar New Year festival were in their 50s, 60s or 70s, according to the L.A. County coroner. An identification has not been shared for the 11th.

Jan. 23, 2023

It wasn’t until much later that he learned of his son’s heroism, he said.

“I’m very proud,” Tom Tsay said. “That night was a tragedy. It could have been much worse if he wasn’t disarmed.”

Brandon Tsay called his sister, Brenda Tsay, just after he took the gun from Tran and then called the police.

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Only a few people were still dancing and socializing when Tran came in. Many were longtime customers who visit the studio, she said.

When her brother called, he wasn’t making sense, thinking that he was involved in an attempted robbery, Brenda Tsay said.

“Obviously, I started to ask questions,” she said. “He said, ‘Don’t ask questions. Just go through and look through the thing.’ ”

Brandon Tsay was referring to video surveillance.

“Once I saw what happened, my stomach turned,” Brenda Tsay said. “I was so upset, so angry to be honest. I felt a little guilty because I wasn’t there.”

A gunman opened fire at a Monterey Park dance studio late Saturday, killing 10 people and wounding 10. He went to another dance studio in Alhambra but was disarmed by two people and later killed himself in Torrance.

Jan. 23, 2023

Neither Brenda Tsay nor her father were at the studio when Tran arrived. Brandon Tsay is usually not there, but on Saturday, he was sitting at the front desk near the entrance.

When she finally saw her brother in person, he was calm but running on adrenaline.

“I’m just happy that he’s alive,” Brenda Tsay. “I’m just happy he wasn’t shot.”

She described her brother as compassionate, nice and caring.

“He’s never hurt anyone in his life,” said Brenda Tsay, adding that “he’s braver than the rest of us.”

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But he’s shaken up, Brenda Tsay said, and trying to carry on with little tasks throughout the day. He’s been sleeping a lot, she said.

Brandon Tsay said that he’s had trouble sleeping and continues to replay the events of Saturday night.

Tom Tsay added that he always told his family if there ever was a robbery to just give the person the money. “But I guess this is a different situation,” the father said, with his son next to him Monday at their home. “I never prepared him for that. Because I guess he wasn’t there for money. So I never prepared him for that kind of situation.”

A gunman killed 10 people on the eve of Lunar New Year in Monterey Park. How the massacre is sparking concerns about anti-Asian hate — and renewing calls for gun control.

Jan. 23, 2023

The gunman had walked into Lai Lai “probably with the intent to kill two more people,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said at a news conference Sunday.

Luna, who said Sunday that it was “two community members” who disarmed the suspect, officials and others in California and across the country have commended Tsay as a hero, stressing that his actions prevented further tragedy.

“A lot of people have been telling me how much courage I had,” Tsay said. “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the ability to have adversity to fear when fearful events happen such as this.”

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He said his heart went out to all the victims, families and community members. “I hope they could find the courage and the strength to persevere,” he said.

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