Hours after a gunman turned a California ballroom into a shooting gallery —killing 10 people and wounding 10 others late Saturday—police discovered a body in a van believed to be connected to the escaped suspect.
The deceased individual was found in the driver’s seat, though there was no immediate confirmation that the body was that of the alleged shooter.
“Could it be our suspect?” Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna had said of the person in the white van at an earlier press conference. “Possibly.”
The nation’s latest mass shooting happened inside the Star Dance Studio around 10:22 p.m. PT in Monterey Park, California, less than an hour after a Lunar New Year festival in the city ended.
Nearly 12 hours later, a SWAT team in nearby Torrence, California, surrounded a white cargo van that matched a “van of interest” witnesses had described, Luna said. Local news footage showed the white van trapped between two armored cars in a strip mall parking lot about 40 minutes from Monterey Park.
“We believe there is a person inside of that vehicle,” Luna said at a press conference. “We don’t know their condition.”
Around 1 p.m. PT, authorities breached the van, eventually finding a deceased man inside.
On Sunday afternoon, authorities also tweeted out a department bulletin with three photos of the suspect, whose name has not been released. The photos depict an Asian man wearing a dark beanie with a white pattern on it. “Investigators have identified him as a Homicide suspect and he should be considered armed and dangerous,” Luna wrote.
At a news conference Sunday morning, Luna gave a “preliminary description” of the suspect: an Asian male between the ages of 30 and 50. He did not disclose information on a potential motive, saying it’s too early to rule out a hate crime and “anything’s a possibility.”
“We are utilizing every resource to apprehend this suspect in what we believe to be one of the county’s most heinous cases,” Luna said.
He added that law enforcement does not currently believe an assault rifle was used in the massacre, which left five men and five women dead. However, multiple reports said the gunman was armed with an assault-style rifle.
Roughly 20 minutes after the shooting at the Star Dance Studio, an Asian man walked into a second dance studio in nearby Alhambra with a firearm, but individuals there were able to wrestle the gun away from him, Luna said. Cops now believe the two incidents are “connected,” but the sheriff could not confirm it “100 percent.”
“That individual took off,” the sheriff explained, adding that witnesses spotted a white cargo van in the area.
On Sunday morning, officers were seen going in and out of Alhambra’s Lai Lai Ballroom, which noted on its Facebook page that it was suspending all-night dances and would reopen only for lessons on Monday.
“As an extra precaution, All students and teachers are subject to search prior to entering the studio,” the studio wrote.
Earlier on Sunday, law enforcement ensured the community that it would be devoting all its resources to the investigation.
“The investigators are working every lead on this case,” said Capt. Andrew Meyer of the homicide department of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
“We have all our resources here—unlimited amount of resources. We have resources from various law enforcement agencies. We’re reviewing all surveillance video, any surveillance video, following all leads, so we’re not going to leave anything unturned.”
Monterey Park, located less than 10 miles from Los Angeles, holds a population of about 60,000. The community is about 65 percent Asian, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Wong Wei, who lives near the crime scene, told the Los Angeles Times that a friend who survived the massacre emerged from the bathroom to find a gunman holding a long gun and three bodies.
“When officers arrived on scene, they observed numerous individuals, patrons of the location, pouring out of the location screaming. The officers made entry to the location and located additional victims,” Meyer said.
“The Monterey Park Police Fire Department responded to the scene and treated the injured and pronounced 10 of the victims deceased at the scene. There were at least 10 additional victims that were transported to numerous local hospitals and are listed in various conditions from stable to critical. The suspect fled the scene and remains outstanding.”
In a tweet, White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said President Joe Biden was briefed on the horrific mass shooting by Homeland Security Adviser Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall.
“He directed her to make sure that the FBI is providing full support to local authorities, and to update him regularly today as more details are known,” Jean-Pierre wrote.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom also said the state was monitoring the situation.
“Monterey Park should have had a night of joyful celebration of the Lunar New Year,” he tweeted. “Instead, they were the victims of a horrific and heartless act of gun violence. Our hearts mourn as we learn more about the devastating acts of last night.”
Meanwhile, Monterey Park said in a statement that the second day of Lunar New Year festivities has been canceled.
“The City expresses condolences to the individuals, families, and friends who were injured in this tragic incident,” the city said.
“Even though the incident did not occur at the 2023 Lunar New Year Festival, an active investigation is currently underway and the area near and around the festival is affected. As a precaution and for the safety of everyone, the City regrets to announce the cancellation of the second day of the festival.”
A website for Star Ballroom Dance Studio says the center was opened in 2013 by Maria Liang, who previously worked for Nike and East West Bank, which serves the Chinese-American community.
“With 10,000 square feet of floor space, it is one of the largest dance studios in town, featuring dozens of teachers and performers from Europe, the Americas, and China,” the website says.
According to an events calendar, the studio was open Saturday evening for “Star Night,” with dancing from 8 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. for $10.