Monterey Park Police Chief Defends Delayed Suspect Alert

Monterey Park Police Chief Defends Delayed Suspect Alert

MONTEREY PARK, Calif. (AP) – The police chief in the California city where 20 people were shot – 11 fatally – at a ballroom dance hall has defended his decision not to warn the public for hours that a killer was on the loose, saying God On Wednesday he did not have enough information to effectively inform residents.

Monterey Park Chief Scott Wiese said the region’s police were alerted and didn’t make sense to send out a nighttime warning to residents of the mostly Asian American city even after they learned the person could he is suspected of being targeted at a nearby dance club after the crash.

“I’m not going to send my officers door to door waking people up and telling them we’re looking for an Asian male in Monterey Park,” Wiese told the Associated Press. “It won’t do us any good.”

The shooting at Star Ballroom Dance Studio happened at 10:22 pm on Saturday just an hour or so after thousands of people attended the Lunar New Year festival in the city. The mass shooting was not reported to the public for five hours, raising questions about why people in the area were not alerted.

Eric Sham visits a memorial stone Tuesday for those killed in the mass shooting at The Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park.
Eric Sham visits a memorial stone Tuesday for those killed in the mass shooting at The Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park.

Sarah Reingewirtz/The Orange County Register via AP

Authorities said 72-year-old Huu Can Tran, who said he frequented the dance hall and fancied himself an instructor, carried out the shooting with a sub-machine gun-style semi-automatic weapon with a magazine large capacity, authorities said.

Tran fled in a white van before officers arrived at the chaotic scene and about 20 minutes later entered another dance hall in nearby Alhambra, where an employee confronted and disarmed him during a brief struggle.

Chris Grollnek, an active shooter expert, said police should not have waited so long to warn the public about the potential threat from a gunman in general. The city had access to an automated warning system and it was better to send out even a little information.

“They should have gotten the word out sooner,” Grollnek said. “I think everybody’s lucky he didn’t come third.”

Wiese, who was sworn in as chief two days before Saturday’s shooting, said he quickly learned of the second incident at the Lai Lai Ballroom but it was not immediately clear that the two were connected.

Patrol officers in Monterey Park and Alhambra reported details about the two incidents, prompting investigators to look into a possible connection, Wiese said.

“We put that together pretty quickly but we still had very limited information,” he said.

Monterey Park Police Chief Scott Wiese speaks to reporters near a memorial outside the Star Ballroom Dance Studio on Tuesday in Monterey Park, California.
Monterey Park Police Chief Scott Wiese speaks to reporters near a memorial outside the Star Ballroom Dance Studio on Tuesday in Monterey Park, California.

Wiese said they were gathering information from about 40 witnesses – many of whom did not speak English – and did not want to broadcast incorrect information. He said notifying other local, state and federal agencies gave them the ability to get the word out.

A sheriff’s official confirmed the deaths to the AP shortly before 2:36 a.m. Sunday but it wasn’t until about an hour later — about five hours after the shooting — that law enforcement first mentioned that there was doubt as a whole.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said his department’s decision to release information was “strategic” but promised to review the timeline.

“When we started putting out public information, the priority was to take this person into custody,” Luna said Monday. His department, which is handling the investigation, has not released information about the shooting as of Monday.

The first news conference about the shooting was held Sunday morning by a sheriff’s captain. Several hours later, Tran was found dead in his van from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, authorities said. A handgun was found in the vehicle.

The killings during the Lunar New Year celebrations brought joy to the Asian American communities who were already dealing with increased hatred and violence directed at them.

Less than 48 hours later, a gunman in Northern California shot eight farm workers – killing seven – at mushroom farms in Half Moon Bay. The shooter was of Chinese origin and most of the victims were Asian.

Outside the locked gates of Star Dance Studio, a popular venue for older Asian Americans, memorials grew taller Wednesday with mounds of bouquets and balloons.

Sabine Slome, who works as a pharmaceutical representative in the city, was in tears after paying her respects and leaving flowers behind.

“I’m praying we learn from this,” she said. “It’s just heartbreaking. How many more shots?”

Hearts were scribbled in pink and red chalk in the car park where the first victim was killed in her car.

“Monterey Park I hope you know how much you are loved,” read a message.

Large photographs of seven of the victims were posted and framed with white roses. Flowers framed the names of the other four dead.

“This is where we go out to eat,” said Ryan Yamada, who was with his 74-year-old mother. “We can’t pretend this is a problem for other people.”

Vice President Kamala Harris visited the memorial in the dance studio parking lot on Wednesday, pausing as she passed each of the large rose-framed photos and names of the victims. She placed a large bouquet of yellow and white flowers alongside scores of others.

Speaking briefly to reporters, Harris expressed views on behalf of President Joe Biden and called for stricter gun control laws.

“It’s tragic that we keep saying the same things,” Harris said. “Congress must act.”

“Can they do something? Yes. Should they do something? Yes. Will they do something? That’s where we all need to speak up,” Harris said.

Vice President Kamala Harris leaves flowers at a transition memorial at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, California on Wednesday.
Vice President Kamala Harris leaves flowers at a transition memorial at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, California on Wednesday.

Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

Pope Francis was among those who expressed condolences, saying in a message to the Archbishop of Los Angeles that “he cries out for the divine gifts of healing and comfort for the injured and the bereaved.”

Wiese said he has seen a lot during his three-decade career, but some of the first officers on the scene were rookies who had never seen such a killing before and the trauma will be hard to forget.

Paramedics were loading the injured into ambulances and treating others inside when the chief executive arrived. There were bodies every 10 feet: some fell over tables, others were sprawled on the dance floor.

“It’s hard to put into words,” he said. “It takes your breath away when you see it. And it burns the image into your brain.”

Melley reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press reporter Julie Watson in San Diego contributed to this report.

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