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California reeling from back-to-back shootings that killed 24: ‘Too much bloodshed’

Mourners take part in a vigil for the victims of a mass shooting at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park.
Mourners take part in a vigil for the victims of a mass shooting at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
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The sweet, smoky smell of incense wafted toward a crowd of hundreds outside Monterey Park City Hall on Tuesday night, just a few blocks from the dance studio where 11 people were killed in one of three mass shootings in California since last week.

Gazing out at a sea of candle-lit faces, Monterey Park Mayor Pro Tem Jose Sanchez paid homage to the dead and the community he represents.

“They lost their lives in a small, quiet, beautiful, diverse and familial town that we call home,” he said.

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Monterey Park is a small enough town that Sanchez, who will assume the role of mayor on Wednesday, also works as a high school teacher in the neighboring community of Alhambra.

“Today was not a day of instruction in my classroom, but a day of remembrance,” he said. “My classroom of 36 students was not a room of work, but a shrine of hope.”

A few people stood in front of him, holding up a massive white banner with messages from Alhambra students scrawled on small purple hearts, blue doves and red rabbits.

Saturday’s tragedy struck especially close for City Councilmember Yvonne Yiu, who said she had intended to go to the Star Ballroom Dance Studio that night but changed plans at the last minute. She had known shooting victim and studio owner Ming Wei Ma for years, she said.

When she was mayor of Monterey Park and first met Ma, he immediately asked her whether she knew how to sing, and within five minutes she was onstage with him performing a duet, she said.

Newly elected City Clerk Maychelle Yee urged the public to see the community as more than one terrible act.

“The city of Monterey Park will not be defined by the heinous act of a cowardly individual,” Yee told the crowd. “We are so much more.”

The shooting was the second of three mass killings to rock California in recent days.

A gunman opened fire at a dance studio in Monterey Park, killing 11 people and wounding 9 more. Tens of thousands had gathered earlier nearby for a Lunar New Year festival.

  • Six people were found fatally shot inside a home in Goshen, Calif., on Jan. 16 in a case police believe could be tied to organized crime.
  • On Saturday night, 72-year-old Huu Can Tran walked into Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park and opened fire, killing 11. He then went to a second dance club in Alhambra but was disarmed. Police think jealously over a personal dispute might have been the motive in the attack but emphasize that the investigation is continuing. Tran carried a 9-millimeter MAC-10 when he walked into the Monterey Park dance hall about 10:20 p.m. and began spraying bullets as frightened patrons ducked for cover. Authorities recovered at least 42 spent shell casings from the scene.
  • Then Monday afternoon, seven more people were killed in two shootings in Half Moon Bay that authorities say are connected. A 66-year-old man is suspected of opening fire at two rural farms about a mile apart, shooting some of the victims in front of children who lived nearby and had recently been released from school. The shooting suspect, identified as Chunli Zhao, was believed to work at one of the farms. Police have not revealed a motive in those shootings but said the incident appeared to be a case of workplace violence.

The slaying of six people, including an infant, highlights how parts of the San Joaquin Valley have become some of the most violent places in California.

“Tragedy upon tragedy,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom, who was visiting Monterey Park on Monday.

California has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation, and there has been talk of even more restrictions in the wake of the latest violence.

Data suggest the rules have made a difference. As The Times reported last year, in 2005, California had almost the same rate of deaths from guns as Florida or Texas, with California reporting 9.5 firearms deaths per 100,000 people that year, Florida reporting 10 and Texas 11, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

Since then, California repeatedly has tightened its gun laws, while Florida and Texas have moved in the opposite direction. California’s rate of gun deaths has declined by 10% since 2005, while the rates of gun deaths in Texas and Florida have climbed 28% and 37%, respectively.

Still, the continuing mass killings have many searching for answers.

“This is tragic on multiple levels,” San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa said. Noting that some of the victims in the Half Moon Bay shootings were Chinese farmworkers, he said it was “horrific that it’s a Lunar New Year [and] you have people massacred both in Monterey Park and in the Half Moon Bay area. We should be celebrating, but instead we find ourselves — because of gun violence — burying innocent people.”

Some are calling for tighter gun laws.

“We are sickened by today’s tragedy in Half Moon Bay. The scourge of gun violence has sadly hit home,” San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine said in a statement.

By consuming news of each mass shooting, we are experiencing what experts call secondary and collective trauma. And as our bodies are sending us signals, experts suggest that we start to pay attention.

“We have not even had time to grieve for those lost in the terrible shooting in Monterey Park. Gun violence must stop. The state of California has among the strictest gun laws in the United States, which we have strengthened through local action here, but more must be done,” he said. “The status quo cannot be tolerated.”

Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park) lamented the scale of violence to hit California in such a short time.

“Two hours ago, I joined my colleagues on the Capitol steps for a vigil for the victims of the shooting in Monterey Park,” he said on Twitter. “Before we’ve even had a chance to mourn them, there is yet another mass shooting — this time in Half Moon Bay. In my district.”

Speaking to reporters Monday before the Half Moon Bay shooting made news, Newsom talked about what California has achieved on gun control.

“The success is demonstrable. It’s overwhelming, that our gun safety laws save lives. And you see leadership here back in 1967, when the modern gun rights movement was launched, then by Ronald Reagan, you saw it with the assault weapons ban in California 1989, led again by California senator in 1994. California will continue to lead red flag laws, background checks, waiting periods across the spectrum,” he said.

But the governor noted that people who want to avoid California gun laws can simply go to a state with lesser regulations, buy weapons and bring them back.

The Supreme Court’s overturning of a New York law restricting people’s right to carry firearms in public has reinvigorated a legal war on California’s gun laws.

One question is what other laws California can enact.

One new law that took effect Jan. 1 gives residents and state visitors new powers to threaten the gun industry.

SB 1327 authorizes anyone other than state or local government officials to sue people who violate the California’s laws against the manufacture, distribution or sale of assault weapons, ghost guns and other banned firearms.

Lawsuits also could be brought against gun dealers who violate the state’s law against selling or transferring weapons (besides hunting rifles) to anyone younger than 21.

Last year, California legislators failed to pass a bill that would have strengthened the state’s concealed-carry law that Newsom and Democratic leaders crafted in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that expanded a person’s right to carry firearms outside the home.

Lunar New Year is marked by giving red envelopes filled with cash — a custom that made for a surreal mix of sentiments in Monterey Park after the mass shooting.

It remains unclear how the guns used in the three latest mass shootings were acquired.

At a candlelight vigil Monday night in Monterey Park, many said they came to honor the victims and turn to others for comfort.

“There’s something about being with others who feel just as sad as you do,” said Enrique Hernandez. “You don’t feel so alone.”

When he heard about the Half Moon Bay shootings, he added: “Too much bloodshed.”

Times staff writer Deborah Netburn contributed to this report.

A closer look at the MAC-10, the semiautomatic gun that law enforcement say was used in a mass shooting over the weekend that killed 11 people at a Monterey Park dance studio.


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