Monterey Park Police Chief Defends Belated Suspect Warning
MONTEREY PARK, Calif. (AP) — The police chief in the California city where 20 people were shot — 11 fatally — in a ballroom, defended his decision not to warn the public for hours that a killer was at large, saying on Wednesday he did not have enough information to effectively warn residents.
Monterey Park chief Scott Wiese said police in the area had been alerted and that there was no point in broadcasting a nighttime alert to residents of the predominantly Asian-American city, even after learning the suspect was after may have targeted a nearby dance club after the massacre.
“I’m not going to send my officers door-to-door to wake people up and tell them we’re looking for an Asian male in Monterey Park,” Wiese told The Associated Press. “It won’t do us any good”
The shooting at the Star Ballroom dance studio at 10:22 p.m. Saturday came just an hour or so after tens of thousands of people attended the Lunar New Year celebrations around the city. The public was not informed of the mass shooting for five hours, raising questions as to why no warning was sent to people in the area.
Eric Sham visits a makeshift memorial to the victims of a mass shooting Tuesday at The Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park.
Sarah Reingewirtz/The Orange County Register via AP
Huu Can Tran, 72, who allegedly attended the dance hall and posed as an instructor, carried out the shooting with a semi-automatic weapon similar to a submachine gun with a large magazine, authorities said.
Tran fled in a white van before officers arrived at the scene of the chaotic carnage, and about 20 minutes later he entered another dance hall at the nearby Alhambra, where a staff member confronted and disarmed him during a brief struggle.
Chris Grollnek, an active shooter expert, said police should never have waited this long to warn the public of the potential threat of a shooter on the loose. The city had access to an automated alert system, and even a little information would have been better than nothing.
“You should have let us know earlier,” said Grollnek. “I think everyone’s lucky they didn’t make it to a third place.”
Wiese, who was sworn in as boss two days before Saturday’s shooting, said he quickly learned of the second incident at the Lai Lai Ballroom, but it wasn’t immediately clear the two were connected.
Patrol officers at Monterey Park and Alhambra shared details of their two incidents, prompting investigators to investigate a possible connection, Wiese said.
“We put that together pretty quickly, but we still had very limited information,” he said.
Monterey Park Police Chief Scott Wiese speaks to reporters near a memorial in front of the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, Calif. on Tuesday.
Wiese said they had gathered information from about 40 witnesses – many of whom spoke no English – and did not want to spread false information. He said notifying other local, state, and federal agencies gives them an opportunity to spread the word.
A sheriff’s officer confirmed the deaths to the AP just before 2:36 a.m. Sunday, but it wasn’t until about an hour later — about five hours after the shooting — that police first mentioned a suspect was at large.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said his department’s decision to release information was “strategic” but promised a timeline review.
“When we first started releasing public information, the priority was to take that person into custody,” Luna said Monday. His department, which is leading the investigation, has not released any information about the shooting since Monday.
The first press conference about the shooting was held by a sheriff’s captain on Sunday morning. Several hours later, Tran was found dead in his van from a self-inflicted gunshot, authorities said. A firearm was found in the vehicle.
The killings during what should have been a joyful Lunar New Year celebration sent waves of fear through Asian American communities, who were already facing increasing hatred and violence against them.
Less than 48 hours later, a gunman shot eight fellow farm workers and killed seven at mushroom farms in Half Moon Bay in northern California. The shooter was of Chinese descent and most of the victims were Asian.
Outside the locked gates of the Star Dance Studio, a popular venue for older Asian Americans, a memorial piled with piles of bouquets and balloons grew taller on Wednesday.
Sabine Slome, who works as a pharmaceutical representative in the city, cried after paying her respects and leaving flowers.
“I just pray we learn from this,” she said. “It’s just heartbreaking. How many more shootings?”
Hearts were scrawled with pink and red chalk in the parking lot where the first victim was killed in her car.
“Monterey Park I hope you know how much you are loved,” read one message.
Large photographs of seven of the victims were propped up and framed by white roses. Flowers framed the names of the other four dead.
“This is where we eat,” said Ryan Yamada, who was traveling with his 74-year-old mother. “We can’t just pretend that this is someone else’s problem.”
Vice President Kamala Harris visited the memorial in the dance studio parking lot on Wednesday and paused as she walked past each of the large rose-framed photos and victims’ names. She placed a large bouquet of yellow and white flowers next to numerous others.
In a brief conversation with reporters, Harris relayed his feelings on behalf of President Joe Biden, calling for tougher gun control laws.
“Tragically, we keep saying the same things,” Harris said. “Congress must act”
“Can they do something? Yes. Do you want them to do something? Yes. will they do something We all have to speak up here,” Harris said.
Vice President Kamala Harris leaves flowers at a makeshift memorial at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, California on Wednesday.
Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images
Pope Francis was among those offering his condolences, saying in a message to the Archbishop of Los Angeles that he “invokes the divine gifts of healing and comfort for the injured and bereaved.”
Wiese said he’s seen a lot in his three-decade career, but some of the first officers on the ground were freshmen who had never faced such carnage, and the trauma will be hard to forget.
Paramedics were loading the wounded into ambulances and treating others inside when the chief arrived. Bodies lay every 10 feet: some slumped over tables, others stretched out on the dance floor.
“It’s hard to put into words,” he said. “It takes your breath away when you see it. And it kind of burns that image into your brain.”
Melley reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press journalist Julie Watson in San Diego contributed to this report.