Lai Lai Ballroom, Alhambra merchants refuse to be terrorized by Monterey Park shooting
Investigators searching for a motive in one of the worst mass shootings in modern Los Angeles County history say a search of the suspected gunman’s home discovered a rifle, hundreds of rounds of ammunition and evidence he was manufacturing gun silencers.
A neon sign flashed “Open” at the Lai Lai Ballroom & Studio in Alhambra on Monday afternoon, less than two days after an attempted attack at the business by a man authorities say gunned down 11 people at a Monterey Park dance studio.
But the doors of the business remained locked to the public. The studio’s parking lot was sparsely filled with employee vehicles and television news vans. Almost no evidence remained that a potentially violent event had occurred less than 48 hours earlier, except for a small patch of fence secured with yellow police tape.
“In observance of the tragedy at Star Dance last night, Lai Lai ... will reopen Monday for lessons only,” the studio posted Sunday on Facebook. “As an extra precaution, all students and teachers are subject to search prior to entering the studio. Our prayers go out to the victims families.”
The night before, an armed man made his way into the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park in a hail of gunfire. When he left a few minutes later, 10 people were dead and 10 others injured. (On Monday, another victim died of her injuries.)
The man, identified by Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials as 72-year-old Huu Can Tran, then traveled to the Lai Lai, where he tried to force his way inside but was disarmed by a community member who was inside the studio.
Search warrants at the home of Huu Can Tran uncovered weapons, ammunition and items that led officials to suspect he was manufacturing firearm suppressors.
Alhambra native Jonathan Ha, who owns Magik Milk, a boba tea shop located down the street from Lai Lai, was horrified by the violence.
“Anytime [a shooting] happens — either around a holiday or not, doesn’t really even matter — it’s super unfortunate,” the 33-year-old said. “But because it was around the holiday, specifically where people come together to celebrate and bring good luck and good fortune into the year, it’s immensely unfortunate for it to have hit our community.”
Like many others, Ha was celebrating the Lunar New Year with his family when he saw news reports of the events in Monterey Park and Alhambra. He recalled the shock and uncertainty his family felt when reading the initial reports.
“Everyone was like, ‘Is this confirmed? Is it real? It’s in the San Gabriel Valley — we don’t get that type of news.’ ” Ha said. “We had to wait around and get more confirmed sources, and when that started coming through, reality started just sitting in. … We really just don’t know how” to process things like that,” he added.
After the Monterey Park dance studio shooting, the gunman went to another dance facility, where he faced resistance, law enforcement said.
Ha opened the doors to his store Sunday morning to spread “positive energy” in the community. He wanted to keep his head up and provide a space where people could have a sense of normality and where he and his staff could lend an ear to anybody looking to talk.
“My family has always looked at it as we’re not gonna let this or events like this actually terrorize us and keep us from living our lives,” he said.
Saturday’s shooting also weighs on Ha as he once had been heavily involved in the dance community. Before the pandemic, he worked as an international choreographer along the West Coast and in Asia and Europe. The global shutdown forced him out of that career, and that’s when he transitioned to tea shop owner.
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.
As a dancer, Ha had dropped in several times at the Lai Lai Ballroom & Studio and said he was a frequent visitor to Star Ballroom.
After this weekend’s events, he said he feels fortunate to have shifted to a different field.
“I think [he and his wife] kind of consider ourselves lucky that we were not as heavily involved in dance because that could happen to any studio looking at the the way it turned out,” Ha said. “It’s like a reality shock for us. Nobody’s invincible, nobody’s untouchable and no communities are completely safe from the yin and yang of the world.”
Law enforcement sources told The Times that Tran, the shooting suspect, had frequented the two clubs — the Star Ballroom and the Lai Lai Ballroom — and that the shooting might have been sparked by a personal dispute.
They also believe Tran was having unspecified emotional problems that had been getting worse in the weeks before the shooting. Tran died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a strip mall parking lot near Sepulveda and Hawthorne boulevards in Torrance after law enforcement officials closed in on him.
It will likely take weeks to unravel what happened. Detectives began serving search warrants at multiple locations Sunday.
Inside Tran’s home in Hemet, investigators found a .308-caliber rifle, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, electronic devices, including cellphones and computers, and items that led officials to suspect he was manufacturing firearm suppressors, Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said during a news conference on Monday.
Authorities also seized a Norinco handgun that was registered to Tran from the van where his body was found Sunday, Luna said.
“I want to emphasize that all the firearms recovered still require additional forensic ballistic examinations and comparisons that we’re doing with our partners, as well as additional investigations into the origins of where the suspect got those weapons,” Luna said, adding there’s “a lot of work to be done there, but we don’t want to leave any stone unturned.”
Times staff writers Noah Goldberg and Hannah Fry contributed to this report.
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