MONTEREY PARK, Calif. (AP) — A gunman opened fire at a Los Angeles-area ballroom dance studio following a Lunar New Year celebration, killing 10 people and setting off a manhunt for the suspect in the nation's fifth mass killing this month.
Another 10 people were wounded and were taken to hospitals, where their conditions ranged from stable to critical, Capt. Andrew Meyer of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department said Sunday.
The scene unfolded late Saturday in Monterey Park, a city of about 60,000 people on the eastern edge of Los Angeles that is composed mostly of Asian immigrants from China or first-generation Asian Americans.
When officers arrived at the studio around 10:30 p.m., people were “pouring out of the location screaming,” Meyer said. He said officers then went into the ballroom and found victims as firefighters treated the wounded.
Meyer gave no description of the male suspect or the weapon he used and offered no explanation for why police gave no information on the shooting for hours while the assailant apparently remained on the run.
He said it was too early in the investigation to know if the gunman knew anyone at the ballroom or if it was a hate crime.
“We will look at every angle,” Meyer said.
The shooting happened in the heart of downtown Monterey Park where red lanterns decorated the streets for the Lunar New Year festivities. A police car was parked near a large banner that proclaimed “Happy Year of the Rabbit!”
The celebration in Monterey Park is one of California’s largest and had attracted tens of thousands throughout the day.
Two days of festivities, which have been attended by as many as 100,000 people in past years, were planned. But officials canceled Sunday’s events following the shooting.
Tony Lai, 35, of Monterey Park was stunned when he came out for his early morning walk to learn that the noises he heard in the night were gunshots.
“I thought maybe it was fireworks. I thought maybe it had something to do with Lunar New Year,” he said. “And we don’t even get a lot of fireworks here. It’s weird to see this. It’s really safe here. We’re right in the middle of the city, but it’s really safe.”
The tragedy marked not just the fifth mass killing in the U.S. since the start of the year but also the deadliest since May 24, when 21 people were killed in a school in Uvalde, Texas, according to The Associated Press/USA Today database on mass killings in the U.S.
The database also shows that 2022 was also one of the nation's worst years in terms of mass killings, with 42 such attacks — the second-highest number since the creation of the tracker in 2006. The database defines a mass killing as four people killed not including the perpetrator.
The latest violence comes two months after five people were killed at a Colorado Springs nightclub.
The White House said President Joe Biden was briefed on the situation by Homeland Security Adviser Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall.
Attorney General Merrick Garland was also briefed, Justice Department spokesperson Dena Iverson said.
The shooting occurred at Star Ballroom Dance Studio, a few blocks from city hall on Monterey Park's main thoroughfare of Garvey Avenue, which is dotted with strip malls of small businesses whose signs are in both English and Chinese. Cantonese and Mandarin are both widely spoken, Chinese holidays are celebrated, and Chinese films are screened regularly in the city.
The business offered dance lessons from Tango to Rumba to the Fox Trot, and rented its space for events. On Saturday, its website said it was hosting an event called “Star Night” from 8 p.m. to 11:30 p.m..
Seung Won Choi, who owns the Clam House seafood barbecue restaurant across the street from where the shooting happened, told The Los Angeles Times that three people rushed into his business and told him to lock the door.
The people said to Choi that there was a shooter with a gun who had multiple rounds of ammunition on him.
Wong Wei, who lives nearby, told The Los Angeles Times that his friend was in a bathroom at the dance studio when the shooting started. When she came out, he said, she saw a gunman and three bodies.
The friend then fled to Wei's home at around 11 p.m., he said, adding that his friends told him that the shooter appeared to fire indiscriminately with a long gun.
Police were investigating another incident in the nearby city of Alhambra, where a similar business, the Lai Lai Ballroom, had police tape across its front door and an officer guarding it.
Detectives could be seen working near the open back door, where a woman wearing gloves was carefully examining the door handle as though checking for prints.
Officials gave no details on what had happened and it was unclear whether the incident was connected to the Monterey Park shooting.
Associated Press writer Julie Watson in San Diego contributed to this report.