It took police hours to warn the public about the Monterey Park gunman
As the investigation into the Monterey Park mass shooting continues, law enforcement officials are looking closely at how long it took them to notify the public that the shooter was still at large.
For about five hours after 72-year-old Huu Can Tran opened fire at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio on West Garvey Avenue and fled late Saturday night, Monterey Park and Los Angeles County authorities made no announcements about the whereabouts of the man Protection.
Instead, the death toll and the shooter’s escape into the chaos were revealed by government sources on other agencies and radio broadcasts.
Tran opened fire at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park around 10:20 p.m. Saturday, killing 11 and injuring nine others, authorities said. The first 911 calls came in around 10:22 p.m. and police arrived at the studio within four minutes.
About 20 minutes after the Monterey Park shooting, the gunman entered the Lai Lai Ballroom & Studio at the nearby Alhambra. Brandon Tsay, 26, confronted him in the studio lobby and snatched the MAC-10 semi-automatic assault weapon from Tran before seeing him flee in a white van.
The shooting — one of the worst in Los Angeles County history — happened on Lunar New Year’s Eve, just hours after the streets of Monterey Park were filled with thousands of revelers celebrating one of the biggest holiday events in the area.
LA County Sheriff Robert Luna said during a news conference Monday that in the hours after the shooting, authorities attempted to weigh the victims, examine the scene and apprehend the suspect.
“When we started releasing public information, the priority was to get that person into custody, so we were very strategic about releasing information,” he said. “It finally worked.”
At 2:48 a.m., the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Information Office issued a tip confirming deaths and stating the suspect was a male. But the alert made no mention that he was not in custody.
The official notification came around 3:30 a.m. – about five hours after Tran opened fire in the dance hall – during a news conference. LA County Sheriff Capt. Andrew Meyer told reporters the “suspect fled the scene and remains pending.”
Horace Frank, a former deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, said a department’s first inclination is usually to notify the public when a mass shooter is at large.
“It’s a public safety issue,” he said. “The only time you don’t do that is when you can articulate other specific reasons. They always go to the site to keep the public informed.”
Frank, who oversaw counterterrorism and tactical operations at the LAPD, said of this case, “If there’s a reason for a delay, I can’t think of one.”
At 11:20 a.m. Sunday, sheriff’s officers released a “special bulletin” asking for the public’s help in identifying the suspect using photos of Tran from security camera footage and a warning that “he is believed to be armed and dangerous.” should be”. Around the same time, Torrance police discovered a white van that had been linked to the shootings.
Authorities later approached the van at a mall near Sepulveda and Hawthorne Boulevards. Inside, they found Tran dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Travis Norton, who leads the After Action Review Team for the California Assn. of Tactical Officers, said the five-hour wait was surprising, but without knowing all the facts of the case, it’s hard to say why the sheriff’s department didn’t notify the public.
“It’s not usual to wait that long when they have a known suspect. However, there’s always a chance they have a good reason,” he said.
Norton, who is also a lieutenant with the Oceanside Police Department, added that in a mass shooting situation with so many victims, it’s possible that failure to notify the public could have been an “accident”.
“These are events that unfold quickly, even after filming has wrapped. Dealing with multiple victims, processing crime scenes, large numbers of witnesses, an active manhunt, and all the other factors and dynamics that are at play make these events very complex,” he said.
The sheriff’s department is reviewing the investigation — as is customary — Luna said to determine “what worked and what didn’t work” in the early hours of the investigation and with a view to releasing information.
Investigators continue to work to understand what drove Tran to the violence, focusing on his frequent visits to the two dance studios and the possibility that he was driven by jealousy or some other personal grudge, according to law enforcement sources.
Law enforcement sources also believe Tran had unspecified emotional issues that had worsened in the weeks leading up to the shooting.
Court documents and reports from neighbors and friends offer a fragmented portrait of the shooter, a lonely, embittered man for whom dancing may have been a rare respite from an otherwise empty life.
For many years, before moving to Hemet, Tran lived in a small white stucco house in San Gabriel with bars over the doors and windows and an orange tree in the front yard.
Former neighbor Tony Castaneda, who lived next door to Tran, recalled being a quiet man. Castaneda and his brother nicknamed him “Tango Andy,” a nickname associated with him dressing in a suit to dance on the weekends.
But Castaneda also recalled a more disturbing incident about 14 or 15 years ago, when angry noises from Trans’ house filled the quiet neighborhood.
“It was 3am and he was having an argument with a woman. I don’t know if it was physical or not, but he threw her out of the house and when she left he threw a bunch of dishes at her outside in the street. Made all kinds of noise and woke up the neighborhood,” Castaneda said.
A former friend of Tran’s, who was also his renter for years and eventually sued him in 2014 when Tran refused to pay his deposit back in full, described Tran as a loner who rarely had visitors and was usually alone except when dancing at the Star or that Lai Lai Ballroom & Studio, where he went after filming.
“I think his life was so miserable and desperate that he chose that day to end his life and in the meantime he wanted to get people he didn’t like or hated to go with him,” he said the man.
Alene Tchekmedyian, a Times contributor, contributed to this report.