Monterey Park shooting marks a grim start to 2023 as gun violence skyrockets

Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images

Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images

On the night of January 21st, families gathered to welcome the Lunar New Year with food and festivities at the Los Angeles Monterey Park dance hall. The last thing they expected during this lively celebration was to become another victim of America’s ravaging gun violence.

Located near the heart of L.A, Monterey Park is a city of 60,000 that’s home to a largely Asian and Chinese demographic. The community was celebrating the Lunar New Year in a ballroom dance studio when an Asian man dressed in a leather jacket, a beanie, and sunglasses opened fire on the crowd of dancers. Many in the area mistook the gunfire as fireworks, allowing the bloodshed to blend in with the lively surroundings. Police were notified of the attack at 10:22 p.m and rushed to the scene, but the gunman escaped before law enforcement arrived. Just 20-30 minutes after the first attack, the gunman burst into Lai Lai Ballroom, a dance studio located in nearby Alhambra. Two bystanders wrestled the gun away, but the assailant once again retreated and fled in a white cargo van.

The next morning, police identified the gunman’s vehicle, a white Chevy Express, and surrounded it around 11 a.m. The suspect pulled into a shopping center parking lot and died of a self-inflicted gunshot as police approached him. The shooter was later identified as 72 year old Huu Can Tran who was living in a trailer park in the city of Hemet. 

The motive for the attack is still unclear, and with the gunman now deceased, it seems unlikely that the public will find an explanation for the shooting. Police are still determining whether this attack was racially motivated. The Monterey Park Lunar New Year festival was planned to be a two day celebration, but the festivities on Sunday were shut down due to the disturbance in the community. Other Lunar New Year festivals in the area continued, but with extra security from law enforcement. 

10 people were injured and another 10 were killed the night of the attack. Another victim would later succumb to their injuries in the hospital, raising the death toll to 11. All of the victims were over the age of 50. This case has become one of the worst mass shootings in the modern history of Los Angeles, and the local community and Asians across the country are devastated by the events. “For him to do this right after we had our opening celebration of Lunar New Year was just horrific,” said Rep. Judy Chu, the representative of Monterey Park. “There were thousands of people that were only one block away celebrating this very, very important holiday. It was a joyous time that immediately turned to tragedy.”

Just a day after Monterey Park, another shooting in Half Moon Bay left seven dead, and five more people were shot in Oakland hours after. In just the first three weeks of 2023, there have been at least 39 mass shootings in America with an especially disturbing trend of gun violence in the state of California. This seemingly endless cycle of violence is a morbid start to the New Year and a devastating blow to the Asian American community. The Lunar New Year is meant to represent a new era in life and a time to usher in wealth and prosperity, but it’s evident that America is only moving backwards when it comes to gun violence. The choice between overlooking the situation or using these tragedies as a catalyst for social change is now up to our lawmakers to decide, but if our circumstances continue at this rate, we can expect to see historical bloodshed in the near future.

Image via Gun Violence Archive