Forty-four hours in America. Three mass shootings. Nineteen lives wiped out. All in California.
The victims in suburban Monterey Park included people between the ages of 57 and 76, ringing in the Lunar New Year Saturday night at a dance studio in the heart of the city’s Asian American community.
Then it happened again.
Before authorities had released all of their names, another seven people were gunned down on Monday afternoon in a rural seaside town in northern California. The victims were immigrant laborers who toiled the land on a mushroom farm where some also lived in mobile homes and trailers.
And then again, this time in Oakland.
Communities in big cities and small towns across the US are being upended nearly every day as mass shootings in workplaces, schools and houses of worship become commonplace.
Gov. Gavin Newsom had been at a hospital with victims of the Monterey Park massacre on Monday when he was pulled away for a briefing on the rampage in Half Moon Bay.
“Tragedy upon tragedy,” Newsom tweeted.
The Democrat could have been referring to the first weeks of 2023 in America, which has already suffered 40 mass shootings this month – more than in any other start of the year on record.
A few threads connected the violence in California – elderly Asian gunmen in two of the cases, many victims were Asian American, as well as proximity and time. However, the greatest common denominator is a gun violence epidemic the United States seems incapable of eradicating.
“Only in America,” Newsom said of the bloodshed. “The devastation is felt for generations in some cases. Communities being torn asunder. No one feeling safe.”
Celebration of ‘peace and hope’ shattered by gunfire
What motivated Saturday night’s shooting at Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park is still unclear.
The city’s majority Asian community had gathered on the eve of the Lunar New Year when 72-year-old Huu Can Tran opened fire, authorities said.
A search of the suspected gunman’s home turned up “hundreds of rounds” of ammunition as well as evidence that led officials to believe he was “manufacturing homemade firearm suppressors,” according to Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna.
The gunman unleashed 42 rounds from a semi-automatic handgun at the dance hall before heading to a second dance studio in nearby Alhambra, where a civilian charged him and wrestled the gun away from him, Luna said.
“Lunar New Year for many of our Asian American communities is the most important and celebrated holiday we have,” said Connie Chung Joe, CEO of Asian Americans Advancing Justice Southern California. “We come together with families. We eat well. We have parades. (The shooting) is equivalent to having, in many parts of America, somebody gunned down at a Christmas Day parade.”
Eleven people died.
The victims were identified as Xiujuan Yu, 57; Hongying Jian, 62; Lilian Li, 63; Mymy Nhan, 65; Muoi Dai Ung, 67; and Diana Man Ling Tom, 70; Wen-Tau Yu, 64; Valentino Marcos Alvero, 68; Ming Wei Ma, 72; Yu-Lun Kao, 72; and Chia Ling Yau, 76.
Tran was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound inside a white van about 30 miles away in Torrance less than a day later, the sheriff said. Authorities said he was familiar with the dance hall.
It’s unclear why he targeted the mostly elderly Asian American patrons during a celebration.
“It’s the year of the rabbit, a symbol of peace and hope,” said Mike Fong, a California State Assemblyman. “And to have that peace and hope shattered in a matter of moments … is unfathomable.”
A vigil and word of a new massacre, an ‘eerie déjà vu’
On Monday afternoon, California Assemblyman Marc Berman, a Democrat, joined colleagues at the state Capitol steps for a vigil for victims of the Monterey Park shooting when he learned of the farm massacre.
“Before we’ve even had a chance to mourn them, there is yet another mass shooting – this time in Half Moon Bay. In my district,” he tweeted.
California State Sen. Josh Becker, a Democrat who represents San Mateo County, told CNN that colleagues at the vigil, after learning of Monday’s shootings, were left asking: “What more can we do?”
Becker added, “We pride ourselves in California as having some of the toughest gun laws in the country. But I got to tell you those don’t matter a bit when there are seven people dead in your own community, when there’s … 11 people dead in Monterey Park. It doesn’t matter one bit.”
Henry Lo, the mayor of Monterey Park, said his community was still processing the violence and grieving the victims there when news spread about the shootings in Half Moon Bay.
“I know exactly what they’re going through,” he said. “It was an uncomfortable, eerie déjà vu.”
He added, “In their community, like in Monterey Park, the feelings are of disbelief. Why is this happening? And shock and just sadness over a tragedy, loss of life and more violence.”