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What motivated a gunman to open fire on a Lunar New Year celebration near LA

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some other news now. Police want to know what motivated a gunman to open fire on a dance hall near Los Angeles during the Lunar New Year weekend. Ten people died. Ten were injured. The suspect was a 72-year-old man who later killed himself. Josie Huang of our member station KPCC has been talking with people in the community where it happened.

JOSIE HUANG, BYLINE: Monterey Park has one of the largest Lunar New Year festivals anywhere in the country. But jubilation turned to fear as news broke of a mass shooting at the Star Dance Studio, a fixture in the neighborhood, especially for older immigrants learning to cha-cha or to waltz. Locals woke Sunday to the sight of police barricades and helicopters circling above.

(SOUNDBITE OF HELICOPTERS)

HUANG: Hong Liu learned that a manhunt was underway as she went downtown to shop for groceries.

HONG LIU: (Non-English language spoken).

HUANG: She said she was going home right away because it was too scary.

LIU: (Non-English language spoken).

HUANG: She said Monterey Park is a safe city where you could never imagine something like this happening. The sense of security that Monterey Park offers is a big reason why so many immigrants move here. The city, which is two-thirds Asian, has been called the first suburban Chinatown, also Little Taipei and the Chinese Beverly Hills. Restaurants and shops here draw Asians from across LA. But a pall had fallen over what would normally be a bustling weekend.

June Cai and her husband were in Monterey Park to look at a used car.

JUNE CAI: (Non-English language spoken).

HUANG: She says any interest in marking the new year disappeared after the shooting. Their hearts just weren't in it. Out of caution, the city had canceled the second day of the Lunar New Year Festival. Officials initially worried that anti-Asian hate was a possible motive, given a surge in such attacks during the pandemic. Tensions remained high until early evening. That's when police identified the suspect.

LA County Sheriff Robert Luna said the suspect's relationship to the victims is not known, but that he could have claimed more lives. Luna said the suspect went to a second dance studio in the neighboring city of Alhambra.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROBERT LUNA: Two brave community members decided they were going to jump into action and disarm him, and the suspect ran away.

HUANG: That firearm, Luna said, was a semiautomatic assault pistol with an extended magazine attached - illegal to own in California. The suspect's van was spotted Sunday morning and pulled over by police in Torrance, a city 30 miles south of Monterey Park. Police say he shot himself as officers approached his van. Many questions remain unanswered.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JUDY CHU: What was the motive for this shooter? Did he have a mental illness?

HUANG: Democratic Congressmember Judy Chu represents Monterey Park. She used to be its mayor. She acknowledged those who had worried about their safety during the manhunt. And she offered reassurance.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHU: Feel safe. You are no longer in danger because this shooter is gone.

HUANG: But June Nachalai couldn't help but still feel unsettled. The Thai Chinese esthetician immigrated to the U.S. 25 years ago.

JUNE NACHALAI: When I first came here, I told myself, this is a great place to live. But the more I live longer, I don't feel safe like before.

HUANG: She said she was avoiding driving near the crime scene because she got emotional thinking about the 10 victims - how they died, who they were. Please say their names will be released once their families have been notified.

For NPR News, I'm Josie Huang in Monterey Park. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Josie Huang