Monterey Park community members gather for a candlelight vigil in honor of the 11 people who were killed in a mass shooting. (Photo Courtesy of Sum-Sum Chan)

Candlelight vigils have been held at Monterey Park City Hall this week in honor of the 11 killed and nine wounded in the mass shooting at a dance hall last Saturday. The largely Asian American community is still reeling from the shock from this extreme and unexplained violence.

Thousands gathered in remembrance of those who were killed on Jan. 21. The shooting occurred at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio, just a short time after a celebratory Lunar New Year festival was held on a nearby street.

The shooter has been identified as 72-year-old Huu Can Tran. He was found dead Sunday from a self-inflicted gunshot wound inside his van in Torrance. 

What the motive was for Tran to engage in a mass shooting may never be known with any certainty.

The Monterey Park community is known as a business hub for LA’s Asian community where many newly arrived immigrants first settled.

“I feel very sad and frustrated for the Chinese American community,” Chuching Wang said. “This is a time [that is] supposed to be [for] celebrating with family and friends. But unfortunately, this kind of event occurred, so I think a lot of people share the same frustrated mind with me.”

Wang resides in West Los Angeles but spends most of his week in Monterey Park taking care of his mother. He didn’t learn about the shooting until Sunday morning when a friend called him about it. Wang immediately started calling other friends who live in the city, feeling a sense of relief every time they answered the phone.

A candlelight vigil in Monterey Park. (Photo Courtesy of Sum-Sum Chan)

While his family and friends were fortunate enough not to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, he attended one of the vigils to share his condolences with those who had lost their loved ones.

“It’s just part of the mental recovery process, you may say, and I think a lot of people have to … find some place to express their feeling of sympathy to those victims,” Wang said.

For Ann Lau, who helped to organize Monday’s vigil, part of the shock from the shooting comes from the fact that it occurred within the Asian American community.

“We always thought [of] each other as being nonviolent,” Lau said. “We never thought that this would happen within our community, and I think this is what is most shocking to us. It’s not what we wanted to be.”

Lau lives in Torrance, where Tran’s body was discovered. For her, the main question on her mind is how something like this could have happened. She described how she didn’t think that those in the Asian American community had the kind of temper in them to commit a mass shooting.

Having friends in Monterey Park, she wanted the vigil  to bring some measure of comfort to those who were affected.

“I hope that people will come together as a community and also to find that, if there is someone in trouble, that we will reach out to them so that they know that people are out there to love them,” Lau said. “We want to make sure people don’t see this as normal, that we don’t accept this as being normal. This should not be normal.”

Charles Lam lives in Bakersfield but is familiar with Monterey Park through his work with the organization — Hong Kong Forum, Los Angeles. He also expressed hope that the vigil would provide a space for people to mourn and give their condolences.

“[I felt] disbelief and confusion,” said Lam. “Monterey Park has always been a safe community for Asian Americans, especially for the Chinese community, and a mass shooting that happened in a dance hall is something that pretty much is unimaginable to any of us who are familiar with the area.”

However, the shooting has brought to the forefront, to both Lam and the Asian American community, the topic of gun violence and gun control.

“I think something that struck me yesterday [Sunday], when Sheriff [Robert Luna] spoke, is that there is really too much gun violence,” Lam said. “And whatever that has been in place obviously is not working. I hope that people from all sides try to find out ways to reduce gun violence. I think this is something that is really important to our community.”

Lam mentioned how this shooting was a realization for Asian communities that gun violence could happen anywhere. He brought up the Atlanta spa shootings in March 2021, which were seen by many to be fueled by anti-Asian racism. However, Lam pointed out how this shooting occurred within the community, as opposed to it.

Even though he lives far north of Monterey Park, the shooting has left him and many others on edge.

“At this moment, everyone is somewhat nervous because we have not imagined such violence could happen in the Monterey Park area or most areas where it’s populated heavily by Asian Americans,” Lam said. “I think it will take some time for all of us to rethink that and reflect on what just happened.”

Something else the shooting has caused Lam to think about is the topic of mental health. While it is still unconfirmed what, if any, mental illnesses Tran may have had, Lam remarked how poor the response has been from the United States in addressing mental health.

“We all know that mental health issues are not addressed in this country, and that is also something that we need to come together to look for a better solution as well.”

 “Our hearts are with the people of California.” said President Joe Biden.

On Wednesday, Vice President Kamala Harris met with the family members of those who were killed in the mass shooting to share her condolences.  In a speech held Sunday in Florida, Harris said, “A time of cultural celebration … and yet another community has been torn apart by senseless gun violence. … All of us in this room and in our country understand this violence must stop.”

Los Angeles County Resources for Community Members Affected by Monterey Park Shooting

The California Civil Rights Department has shared information about resources for those who have been affected by the mass shooting in Monterey Park.

A resource guide has been compiled by the AAPI Equity Alliance in conjunction with Asian Americans Advancing Justice Southern California, as well as many local organizations and service providers with information from the Civil Rights Department and other state agencies. It can be found at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1_Vmqt_jqesWeqV24TDpZyDImecJerZm7/view.

There are also several centers that offer mental health services, including:  

— Victim and Survivor Resource Center: operated by Los Angeles County, City of Monterey Park, American Red Cross and others to provide on-the-ground mental health services, crisis response teams and victim services. Mandarin and Cantonese interpretation is available. Open daily 8 a.m. – 7 p.m. at the Langley Senior Citizen Center, 400 W Emerson Ave., Monterey Park. They can also be reached at (626) 307-1388.

— Chinatown Service Center: a nonprofit which provides services for immigrants and other communities in LA County, offers trauma counseling to community members. They can be found at https://www.cscla.org/ or (213) 808-1700.

— Asian Pacific Counseling and Treatment Centers: a mental health center in LA County that addresses the needs of Asian Pacific immigrants and refugees. Services are available in Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Korean, Tagalog, Thai and Spanish. Behavioral health and outpatient clinical services provided at the Alhambra location at 1635 West Main St., Suite 100. It is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. It can also be reached at (626) 248-1800 or https://www.apctc.org/.

With the input of community leaders and government officials across the state, the Civil Rights Department has completed a “soft launch” of the CA vs. Hate Resource Line and Network.

The CA vs. Hate Resource Line and Network helps individuals and communities targeted for hate identify options for next steps and connects people with culturally competent resources and support through care coordination. All services and resources are currently available to people who submit reports online at https://stophate.calcivilrights.ca.gov/s/ at any time in 15 languages.

People also can report an incident by calling (833) 866-4283 or 833-8-NO-HATE, Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and talk to a trained civil rights agent in over 200 languages. Outside of those hours, people can leave a voicemail or call 211 to report a hate incident and seek support from a professional trained in culturally competent communication and trauma-informed practices.

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