When I think of Monterey Park, Calif., I think of Monty Manibog, who was elected to the city council in 1976 and became the first Filipino American elected official in Southern California. It was considered a milestone in Asian American Filipino empowerment. Manibog served for 12 years, including a few terms as the city’s mayor.
He never had to deal with a mass shooting of the kind that has become so common in America these days.
This weekend, it happened in Monterey Park on Mayor Henry Lo’s watch.
“An unimaginable tragedy has occurred here in Monterey Park,” Lo said at a Sunday night press conference. “During a weekend in which we’re celebrating the Lunar New Year…But tragically someone decided to express violence, and violence has no place in our society.”
He said the priority now were the victims and survivors, and their family members, and making sure they get the culturally-sensitive assistance they need to heal.
But the names still haven’t been made public for all of us to mourn. Officials at Monterey Park City Hall were still reluctant to identify anyone, other than to say there were ten dead, 5 men, 5 women. And ten wounded. All older than 40.
Let’s hope the identities come out soon. The names add to the urgency. They identify the real stakes.
By late Sunday, we learned the killer’s identity.
It was an Asian male, but still not what law enforcement expected.
Initially, the all-points bulletin issued by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department showed pictures of a suspect described as a “Male/Asian/dark complexion,” 5’10,” 150 pounds, “wearing blk leather jacket, beanie and glasses.”
Officials had said they were looking for someone in his 30s to 50s.
But they forgot they were dealing with an Asian.
The suspect was later confirmed as Huu Can Tran, 72.
Tran was found dead of a self-inflicted wound after he was pulled over on a traffic stop, said LA County Sheriff Robert Luna at a press conference late Sunday.
Officials said it was Tran who went to the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park around 10:20 pm on Saturday night and started shooting. They said he used a semi-automatic pistol that had a high-capacity magazine.
Luna said Tran fled in a white van and went to another ballroom in nearby Alhambra, where he appeared to be looking to cause more trouble. But officials said two locals, described as “heroes,” took away Tran’s weapon.
Tran then slipped away again and was stopped Sunday midday while driving about 30 minutes away in Torrance. As police tactical units surrounded him, Luna said Tran took his own life, apparently from a handgun discovered in the van.
“The suspect responsible for this tragedy is no longer with us,” said Luna, who inferred Tran acted alone. “If you’re asking me if we feel we’re safe, he’s the one responsible for this. He is no longer a threat.”
Why Tran did what he did won’t be known immediately. Congressmember Judy Chu, a Monterey Park resident and former city council member and mayor, said she wants to know the shooter’s motive, whether he had a mental illness, or was a domestic violence abuser. And of, course, whether the guns were obtained legally.
“Those questions will have to be answered in the future,” Chu said at the press conference. “But what I want to do here is to say to the community, feel safe. You are no longer in danger because this shooter is gone.”
But are we?
Gun culture among Asian Americans has been a thing ever since Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people and wounded 17 using two semi-automatic pistols on April 16, 2007 .
And then there was the Oikos University shooting on April 2, 2012, when One L. Goh, used a .45 caliber handgun to kill 7 and injure 3.
In 2023, after three years of anti-Asian rhetoric during the pandemic brought a stark rise in hate violence to nearly 12,000 instances, the community has discovered guns as a means of self-defense.
During the pandemic, five million people became first-time gun owners, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Asian Americans, known for their low rates of gun ownership, were part of that trend. AAPI gun ownership rose by 43 percent.
And then there were the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan studies, which found that Asian Americans who experienced or witnessed racism were more likely to buy guns.
I don’t know the Monterey Park shooter’s frame of mind when he went fully armed to the Star Ballroom Saturday night, but the notion of more guns in the community is not a good thing. Frankly, it’s frightening without a shot being fired.
The presence of guns only adds unnecessary danger in any situation. As guns proliferate amongst us, the threat of violence is more real than ever.
After killing ten people and wounding ten, Huu Can Tran took his own life.
Is the danger really gone? Tran is a wakeup call for all of us not to kowtow to the gun rights folks and to take real action against gun violence. Unless we do, we will see the likes of Tran again, as our community assimilates into the American gun story.
NOTE: I will talk about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my AAPI micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on www.amok.com.