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‘It Was Primal Instinct’: Hear From Man Who Disarmed Monterey Park Mass Shooter While Suspect Was Targeting Second Dance Hall


A California man described what happened when he disarmed a gunman who was targeting his family-run dance hall. Authorities have said that the suspect, 72-year-old Huu Can Tran, had just opened fire at a dance hall in a nearby city.

“That moment, it was primal instinct,” Brandon Tsay told The New York Times about the struggle over the gun. “Something happened there. I don’t know what came over me.”

Authorities in Los Angeles County said that Tran first opened fire inside the Star Dance Studio in the city of Monterey Park on Saturday night. The mass shooting happened amid Lunar New Year celebrations over the weekend.

“Who walks into a dance hall and guns down 20 people?” local sheriff Robert Luna told reporters in a press conference.

Authorities initially said that 10 people died and 10 were injured. They announced on Monday that an 11th person died.

The Los Angeles County coroner’s office identified three of the women killed:

  • Lilian Li, 63.
  • My Nhan, 65
  • Xiujuan Yu, 57

They have identified one of the men.

  • Valentino Alvero, 68

Officials have yet to identify the remaining slain victims, citing the need to contact next of kin. Two of the unidentified women were in their 60s, they said. The third was in her 70s. Three of the unidentified men were in their 70s. A fourth was in his 60s.

An 11th person died at LAC-USC Medical Center, the hospital announced on Monday, according to KTLA.

After the shooting in Monterey Park, Tran allegedly soon traveled to the nearby city of Alhambra. His ultimate destination: the dance hall that Tsay’s grandparents started, which is now run by his sister.

Tsay, a computer coder, runs the ticket office at the Lai Lai Ballroom and Studio several days a week, according to the Times. He said he was watching the ballroom and heard the front doors close. Hearing a sound like metal objects hitting each other, he then saw the suspect, a man he did not recognize, point a semiautomatic pistol at him.

The gunman appeared to be looking around for “targets” to hurt, Tsay told Good Morning America.

Suspect in Monterey Park mass shooting on Jan. 21, 2023. Deputies identified him as Huu Can Tran. (Image: Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department)

Suspect in Monterey Park mass shooting on Jan. 21, 2023. Deputies identified him as Huu Can Tran. (Image: Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department)

“When I got the courage, I lunged at him with both my hands, grabbed the weapon, and we had a struggle,” he said. “We struggled into the lobby, trying to get this gun away. … He was hitting me across the face, bashing the back of my head.”

He told the Times they struggled over the firearm for about a minute and a half. The gunman took a hand off the gun, as if, in the outlet’s words, “to manipulate the gun to begin shooting,” but Tsay used this as an opportunity to finally take it away.

“I was shaking all night,” Tsay told GMA. “I couldn’t believe what happened. A lot of people have been telling me how much courage I had to confront a situation like this. But you know what courage is? Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the ability to have adversity to fear when fearful events happen such as this.”

Luna said that two people disarmed the gunman in Alhambra. But Tsay’s family, supplying surveillance imagery to GMA, said it was Brandon and Brandon alone.

“It was just my son,” father Tom Tsay told the Times. “He could have died. He’s lucky. Someone was watched over him.”

Authorities have said Tran left this second ballroom after the struggle. Relying on witness descriptions of a white van, investigators tracked the vehicle down to Torrance, California, on Sunday morning. According to Luna, officers followed the vehicle into a shopping center parking lot, but police backed off when they heard a single gunshot. Authorities blocked the van with their own vehicles and approaching SWAT team members discovered Tran dead inside from a single self-inflicted gunshot wound, the sheriff said.

Luna said Sunday that it was early in the investigation and authorities are still working to determine what happened, including determining the motive. When a reporter asked if this was the result of a domestic dispute between husband and wife, Luna did not confirm one way or the other. Authorities also brought up the possibility of a hate crime because it was initially assumed that most, if not all the victims in Monterey Park, were Asian. This is in light of increased rates of anti-Asian hate crimes.

Even with an Asian perpetrator and Asian victims, such hate crimes are not unprecedented. For example, nationality could hypothetically motivate animus. A Chinese man was recently charged with targeting Taiwanese people at a Laguna Woods church.

Update – 3:09 p.m.: We added the names of the two slain women identified on Monday.

Update – 5:51 p.m.: The coroner’s office identified two more victims and said that an 11th person died.

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