Regulars at Monterey Park’s Star Ballroom Dance Studio were line-dancing to a catchy version of the Chinese ballad “Light Rain in March” at around 10:20 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 21, when a series of rapid pops rang out, signaling the start of one the most horrific chapters Los Angeles County history.
At first, some patrons thought the sound was that of firecrackers from a Lunar New Year celebration outside the ballroom. But then bloodied dancers began to collapse on the wooden floor.
Those who were fortunate to survive the onslaught cowered under tables or hid in a back room. Some watched as 72-year-old Huu Can Tran, a bespectacled, disgruntled former dance instructor in a distinctive black-and-white toboggan cap who had last visited Star Dance more than five years ago, sprayed the venue with 42 bullets from a semi-automatic pistol.
When the five-minute rampage ended, 10 people lay dead while 10 more were wounded. One of the patrons later succumbed to injuries, bringing the body count to 11.
Fleeing the Star Dance, Tran’s fury was unquenched.
He quickly drove about two miles to Lai Lai Ballroom & Studio in Alhambra, but was blocked from entering by the owners’ son, 26-year-old Brandon Tsay, who heroically wrestled his gun away during a fierce struggle.
Tran ran off and remained at large for more than 12 hours until police pulled over his white van with a stolen license plate in a Torrance strip mall parking lot. As officers closed in, Tran fatally shot himself in the head with a Norinco 7.62×25-millimeter pistol.
Authorities have not offered an explanation as to Tran’s whereabouts between the time of the shooting and his subsequent suicide or a motive for the crime.
“What drove a mad man to do this? We don’t know, but we intend to find out,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna vowed just after the shootings.
In the two weeks since the slaughter, authorities still can’t answer that question. Details have trickled out about Tran’s troubled life along with delusions and paranoia that might have pushed him to commit the largest-ever mass shooting in Los Angeles County. But much of it is speculation.
So far, here’s what we definitively know — and still don’t know — about the gunman.
A divorced immigrant Tran submitted a naturalization petition to the U.S. Department of Justice in 1990 indicating he was born in 1950 in Vietnam.
However, he immigrated from China, according to a copy of his marriage license provided by his ex-wife to CNN. The couple divorced in 2006 and there is no indication they had any children. Information was not immediately available regarding when Tran came to the U.S.
Tran’s former wife, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the case, told CNN she met Tran about 20 years ago at Star Dance, where he gave her free dance lessons. The couple was apparently smitten and married soon after.
However, Tran was a taskmaster on the dance floor. The woman said that while Tran wasn’t violent, he became angry if she missed a step while dancing because it made him look bad, according to CNN.
Business owner and landlord Tran formed Tran’s Trucking Inc. in 2002 and listed himself as chief executive officer, However, the company was dissolved two years later with no assets.
Tran also dabbled in real estate, renting out his home on Manor Way in San Gabriel, while continuing to live on the property.
A former tenant, who doesn’t want to be identified to avoid public exposure, described Tran, who visited Star Dance nearly every evening, as distrustful, angry and delusional, believing dance instructors there were jealous of him. A friend said Tran believed instructors said “evil things” about him, according to CNN.
But authorities said Tran had not been to Star Dance in at least five years, suggesting that if he held a grudge, he carried it for a long time.
The tenant said that after Tran sold his home, they moved into an apartment in Alhambra, but had a falling out over the rent security deposit. He eventually won a judgment against Tran for $700.
Vigilante and crime victim Prior to the Star Dance massacre, Tran was barely a blip on police radar.
His only documented arrest occurred in 1990, when he was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and carrying a loaded firearm in San Gabriel after attempting to chase down a man who stole beer from a liquor store.
Tran purported to be a frequent crime victim as well.
He reported to San Gabriel police in 1992 the sister-in-law of the married woman he was dating threatened to have a Taiwanese gang kill him if he didn’t end the relationship and likely planted 49 shotgun shells in his yard to intimidate him. Investigators couldn’t prove the allegations and closed the case.
Seven years later, Tran notified San Gabriel police that he had received numerous calls from someone who did not say anything when he answered the phone. In the police report, Tran listed his occupation as “dancing instructor/self-employed.”
Conspiracy theorist and gun aficionado More recently, Tran visited the Hemet police station on Jan. 7 and Jan. 9, claiming his family had engaged in fraud and theft and more than a decade ago tried to poison him. He promised to return to the station with documentation to prove his allegations, but never came back.
When law enforcement officers searched Tran’s residence at The Lakes at Hemet West mobile home park hours after the Star Dance shooting they made an ominous discovery, recovering a .308-caliber rifle, items for manufacturing firearm suppressors and a large amount of ammunition.
It’s still unclear how Tran obtained the weapons.
Authorities have not released information detailing Tran’s trip from Hemet to Monterey Park to carry out the attack. It’s also unknown if the massacre was spontaneous or meticulously planned. However, it seems that Tran may have had an escape plan, stashing a motorcycle near the dance studio as an alternative getaway vehicle.