Families of Monterey Park shooting victims remember loved ones as all 11 are identified

 (AP/Family handout)
(AP/Family handout)

The US has been rocked by the deadliest mass shooting since 21 small children and teachers were killed in the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in May 2022.

Eleven victims were killed and another nine wounded when a gunman opened fire inside the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, California, on Saturday night, shortly after thousands of members of the Asian American community had gathered for Lunar New Year celebrations in the city outside Los Angeles.

Ten of the victims – five men and five women – were pronounced dead on Saturday while the eleventh victim succumbed to their injuries on Monday.

Suspected gunman Huu Can Tran, 72, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound on Sunday when police closed in on him in his white van, according to authorities.

The motive for the attack remains unknown and it is not clear if Tran knew the victims however he used to be a regular at the dance hall.

Now, details are emerging about the suspect and those who lost their lives. The heartbroken families of the victims have begun to speak out and remember their loved ones. Here’s what we know about the victims so far:

Who are the shooting victims?

Authorities have now identified all of the 11 victims killed in the shooting. They were all aged in their 50s, 60s, and 70s.

Of the 10 victims pronounced dead in the immediate aftermath, there were five men and five women. The eleventh victim who passed away in hospital was also a woman.

On Monday, four of the victims were identified by the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office, while three others of those slain were named by people that knew them.

Mymy Nhan, a 65-year-old woman, Valentino Alvero, a 68-year-old man, Lilian Li, a 63-year-old woman, and Xiujuan Yu, a 57-year-old woman, were confirmed by authorities among the deceased.

Ming Wei Ma, 72, the male owner of the dance studio, was confirmed as dead by friends and relatives and later confirmed by the coroner.

Diana Tom, 70, was wounded during the shooting and later died from her injuries at an area hospital.

The remaining victims were named on Tuesday, The Los Angeles Times reports.

Hong Jian, a 62-year-old woman; Muoi Ung, a 68-year-old woman; Yu Kao, a 72-year-old man; Wen Yu, 64; and Chia Yau, a 77-year-old man, all died at the scene.

CBS News reports that the family of Nancy Liu, 62, said she had been killed — it is unclear if she is known by another name.

The Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Los Angeles confirmed two of the victims were Taiwanese Americans, and the Chinese Consulate in the city said one of its citizens was among the dead. Mr Alvero was Filipino-American, according to the Philippine Consulate.

Families and friends pay tribute

Nhan’s family members said it brought them comfort knowing that she enjoyed her “last dance” and died doing what she loved.

This photo provided by niece Fonda Quan shows Mymy Nhan (AP)
This photo provided by niece Fonda Quan shows Mymy Nhan (AP)

“It is comforting to know that she enjoyed her last dance, even though it was her last dance,” her niece Fonda Quan told AP.

The 65-year-old had been a regular at both the Star Ballroom and the Lai Lai Ballroom for the last decade and had specifically chosen her usual haunt to “start the year fresh” with Lunar New Year celebrations, Ms Quan said.

Her mother had died three weeks ago and she had been looking forward to starting afresh, her niece said.

Instead, she was shot in her car as she was leaving the club.

The family also released a heartbreaking statement on Monday: “She spent so many years going to the dance studio in Monterey Park on weekends. It’s what she loved to do. But unfairly, Saturday was her last dance. We are starting the Lunar New Year broken. We never imagined her life would end so suddenly. Mymy was 65 years old. If you knew her, you knew her warm smile and kindness was congruous. She was a loving aunt, sister, daughter and friend. Mymy was our biggest cheerleader.”

The first victim to be unofficially identified by friends and relatives was the owner of the ballroom studio who heroically ran towards the gunman to try to stop the massacre.

Ming Wei Ma owns the Star Dance Studio and had worked as a dance instructor there for many years.

His friends told CBS Los Angeles that he was the first to rush towards the gunman when he began opening fire inside the club.

“According to the chat, he was the first to rush the shooter,” said Eric Chen, adding that this was typical of Ma’s selfless nature.

Ming Wei Ma was identifed as friends as being among the victims of the shooting (KCAL News)
Ming Wei Ma was identifed as friends as being among the victims of the shooting (KCAL News)

“He was just caring, and other first, people first kind of person.”

Mr Chen added that it was “heartbreaking and it’s unthinkable that it would happen”.

It remains unclear whether any of the victims were targeted and if the suspect knew them prior to the attack.

Those hospitalised were in conditions ranging from stable to critical.

Diana Tom’s family described her as a “hard-working mother, wife and grandmother who loved to dance”.

“On behalf of Diana Tom, we, her family, condemn this senseless act of violence that has uprooted the lives of all the victims, their families and the entire API community at large,” the family said in a statement. “We honor and support all of those affected.”

"On the night of January 21, Diana was at Star Dance celebrating the Lunar New Year by dancing with her friends," the statement said. "To those who knew her, she was someone who always went out of her way to give to others."

Valentino Alvero was described as: “A loving father, a dedicated son, and brother, a grandfather who loved his three granddaughters fiercely, an uncle who loved his nieces and nephews like his own.”

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“He loved people and hearing about their lives and in return, he shared his own stories with so much enthusiasm that you couldn't help but listen and laugh along with him,” the family said in a statement in which he was called both “the life of the party” and a devout Catholic.

“We hope that he danced to his heart's content until the very end and hope that he is now dancing in heaven,” the family said, adding that it was a “great travesty” that he did not receive last rites.

Xiujuan Yu’s niece Kathleen Fong spoke for the family, having set up a fundraising page, on which she wrote: “After days of uncertainty, anxiety, and waiting in worry, we received the news that my aunt was indeed among the deceased at the incident.”

Ms Yu immigrated to the US from China in just over a decade ago with her husband and three children. The two children are currently at college studying sports medicine and kinesiology at state universities.

“My aunt and uncle have worked tirelessly to support their daughters’ livelihood and education, working odd jobs and taking on labor-intensive occupations to make ends meet,” Ms Fong wrote. “The family has just been able to get by with the support of both parents, but now with one of them no longer in the picture and the steep cost of unanticipated funeral services awaiting them, we have deemed it necessary to reach out to the community for assistance.”

Tributes to family members have also offered prayers for the other victims of the shooting.

What we know about the shooting

On Saturday night, approximately seven miles east of downtown Los Angeles, visitors gathered to celebrate the Lunar New Year. The two-day festival draws tens of thousands, making it one of the largest celebrations of its kind in the region, according to the paper.

Around 10.22pm, a man entered the dance club and began shooting.

Seung Won Choi, the owner a seafood restaurant across the street from the ballroom, told the LA Times that party attendees fled the building and ran into his business, warning him to close and lock his doors.

Police arrived at the scene and found that the party-goers were already fighting to escape the building.

“When officers arrived on scene, they observed numerous individuals, patrons … pouring out of the location, screaming,” he told reporters Sunday. “The officers made entry to the location and located additional victims.”

Ten people were killed in the attack and another 10 taken to hospital with various injuries.

Huu Can Tran pictured on surveillance footage in the aftermath of the attack (Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department)
Huu Can Tran pictured on surveillance footage in the aftermath of the attack (Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department)

Police said that, around 20 minutes later, a gunman entered a second dance studio – the Lai Lai Ballroom and Studio in – in nearby Alhambra.

There, a group of heroic patrons managed to wrestle the gun away from the shooter who then fled the scene. No one was injured in the second incident.

A huge manhunt was launched to track down the gunman of what marks the worst mass shooting in the US since 21 young students and teachers were killed in a massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

On Sunday, investigators tracked down Tran after witnesses at the Alhambra incident reported seeing a white cargo van at the scene and surveillance footage of the suspect was circulated to the public.

Around 12 hours on from the mass shooting, officers had spotted him driving the van around Torrance, about 30 miles from Monterey Park.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said at a press conference on Sunday that when police pulled over the van, Tran drove into a parking lot.

“When officers exited their patrol vehicle to contact the occupant, they heard one gunshot coming from within the van,” the sheriff said.

Two police vehicles are seen near a building where a shooting occurred in Monterey Park (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Two police vehicles are seen near a building where a shooting occurred in Monterey Park (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

SWAT teams surrounded the vehicle before approaching the van and finding Tran dead inside from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, he said.

Evidence found inside the vehicle allegedly ties the 72-year-old to the shooting.

Authorities believe Tran acted alone and are not seeking anyone else in connection to the mass shooting.

The motive for the attack remains unclear.

Tran had been a regular at the Star Dance Studio for years and had previously complained about instructors making “evil” comments about him, people who knew him told CNN. He had also met his ex-wife at the club, sources told CNN.

It is not clear if Tran was still attending the dance studio in the run-up to the mass shooting or if he knew any of the victims.

On Monday, it emerged Tran was paranoid that his family had tried to poison him decades ago and had gone to police with the allegations just weeks before he killed 11 in a shooting rampage at a ballroom dance club.

Hemet Police revealed that Tran had visited the police department twice in early January – once on 7 January and then again on 9 January – “alleging past fraud, theft, and poisoning allegations involving his family in the Los Angeles area 10 to 20 years ago”.

The gunman told police he would return with documentation to prove his allegations but he never returned.