The peaceful and close-knit community of Monterey Park has been left reeling from the mass shooting at a ballroom dancing studio over the Lunar New Year weekend that left 10 people dead and 10 more wounded.
The southern Californian city of 60,000, where about 65 percent of residents are of Asian descent, is consistently ranked as one of the best and most peaceful places to live in the United States, but the mass shooting has shaken residents’ faith in the safety of their community.
“In my heart, I always felt the United States was the best country in the world,” Li Xia, who arrived in Monterey Park from China only four months ago.
“Now, I am so sad. I can’t believe it. I don’t want to stay here one more day. I don’t feel safe. I want to move back to China,” the 50-year-old retired math teacher told the Reuters news agency.
On Sunday morning, residents gathered in small groups in stunned disbelief and dismay.
There was a heavy police presence around the dance hall where the shooting unfolded, which was cordoned off by yellow police tape.
“This kind of thing doesn’t happen here,” Wynn Liaw, a resident who went to the venue after learning of the attack through the news bulletins.
Liaw, a 57-year-old retired veterinarian, has lived in Monterey Park for 40 years.
She finds it hard to believe that the shooting unfolded behind the white-and-green awning of the studio she passes every day on her way to do her shopping.
“This is a very safe neighbourhood, where I can walk alone at night and where I don’t have to worry about gun violence,” she told the AFP news agency as police helicopters whirred overhead.
The suspect in the killings later shot himself after his van was surrounded by police, the authorities said. Police identified the suspected gunman as 72-year-old Huu Can Tran but said the motive for the attack on the dance hall, popular with older people, remained unclear.
The attack brought a sudden end to what had been the city’s first in-person celebration of the Lunar New Year in three years. The festivities were due to continue for three days, but on Sunday vendors were instead dismantling stalls while workers took apart a fairground.
“We are all so sad. We were so excited to celebrate the new year. Now we will just be praying for the victims,” said 14-year-old Muohan Chi, who started receiving hundreds of messages about the shooting in a family and friends chat group on her phone on Saturday night. Police say the dead included five men and five women. Seven of the 10 injured remain in hospital.
Chi’s father, Jianzhong Chi, 35, said: “We just want this to end.”
The Monterey Park community is close-knit, city leaders said. Just a few kilometres east of central Los Angeles, the area is considered the city’s “new Chinatown”. Residents read newspapers in Mandarin, and most business signs are in Chinese characters.
Chester Chong, chairman of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles, was on Sunday standing close to the cordoned off dance studio in a state of disbelief.
“It’s such a beautiful and quiet city,” Chong said. “People here all know each other, help each other. This is terrible.”
Ken Nam, a 38-year-old IT worker who was out walking his dog, said that he had experienced crime just once in the 20 years he had lived in Monterey Park — the theft of the catalytic converter from his car.
“It’s a really sad thing, this country is getting crazy,” Nam said. “We saw mass shootings in a lot of different cities and in other states, but now it is coming to us.”
The incident marks the fifth mass shooting in the US this month and the deadliest since 21 people were killed in a school in Uvalde, Texas, according to the AP/USA Today database on mass killings in the country.
The US suffered 647 shootings with four or more victims in 2022, according to the Gun Violence Archive website.