Gabriel Alexander plays guitar and sings in front of an impromptu offering outside the Star Ballroom Dance Studio, Tuesday, January 24, 2023, in Monterey Park, California. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
MONTEREY PARK, Calif. (AP) — Shortly after the worst massacre in Los Angeles County history, the California governor was at the hospital to meet with some of those injured in the incident when his aides they pulled him aside and informed him of another mass shooting on the other end of the state.
News that a gunman had killed seven people at two mushroom farms along a scenic stretch of Northern California coastline came just hours after Gov. Gavin Newsom spoke of his weariness and frustration with mass shootings.
“I can’t go through with this,” he told reporters hours earlier Monday in Monterey Park, where 11 people were killed in a dance studio. “It’s crazy to say the same thing over and over and over again.”
Either way, Newsom headed to Half Moon Bay on Tuesday to address the third mass shooting in just over a week in a state with some of the strictest gun laws and gun death rates of lowest fire in the country.
Visibly angry and at times exasperated, the governor consulted notes he had used in previous massacres: the murder of 12 people in a Thousand Oaks bar in 2018; the shooting in which three people were killed and 17 more injured during the 2019 Gilroy Garlic Festival; the killing of nine workers at a San José rail yard in 2021.
“I started writing ‘Monterey Park,'” Newsom said. “And now I have to write ‘Half Moon Bay.’ What the hell is going on?”
A 66-year-old farm worker was booked on murder and attempted murder charges after shooting eight people, seven of whom died, in a crime authorities describe as an act of workplace violence across a vast agricultural region that lies between the Pacific Ocean and the mountains.
In Monterey Park, a 72-year-old gunman opened fire at a dance studio located in an Asian-American community celebrating Lunar New Year’s Eve Saturday night, killing 11 people and injuring nine. Later, the assailant took his own life.
A week earlier, at least two assailants shot and killed a 16-year-old mother protecting her 10-month-old baby, and killed four other people in a central California farming region, in an attack that remains unsolved.
“Our hearts go out to the people of California,” President Joe Biden declared Tuesday during a meeting with Democratic lawmakers. “It has been very, very difficult days.”
Biden noted that California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein has introduced a bill to ban assault rifles, and called on Congress to approve it.
Newsom also called for stricter regulations on firearms, speaking in particular of high-capacity magazines — like the one held by the Monterey Park shooter — and what he described as “weapons of a fucking war.”
“It’s said all the time: ‘Only in the United States,’” he said. “First place in possession of firearms. First place in deaths by firearm. It’s not even complicated.”
The recent massacres have moved California up five places to the 26th place in the number of deadly mass shootings per capita in the country since 2006, according to a USA Today/AP/Northeastern University database. The database only records incidents in which at least four people were killed.
Although California has the highest number of shooting killings — 49 with the three most recent — it ranked 31st as the nation’s most populous state with nearly 40 million people.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ranks California seventh for the lowest firearm death rate in the country per 100,000 population, according to the most recent available statistics, those of 2020. It is the 20th lowest in terms of homicide rate, which is not limited only to shootings.
The back-to-back killings have detectives on both ends of the state searching for answers to a question that none often has in the face of violence: Why?
Los Angeles County Police Chief Robert Luna called the perpetrator of the dance studio massacre, Huu Can Tran, 72, an “angry man” and said it was being investigated whether he had any relationship to the people targeted. the ones he shot
Tran fired 42 shots inside a dance studio that was popular with older Asian-Americans. He then drove to another nearby dance studio where an employee managed to take his modified 9mm submachine gun from him, Luna said.
Tran fatally shot himself Sunday as police surrounded the van he was in. A pistol was found inside the van, matching the descriptions of the vehicle she used to escape from the dance studio.
Outside the studio doors were stacks of flowers, including dozens of white and yellow chrysanthemums. On a brick column to one side of the door someone placed a piece of blue paper with the legend: “Ban semi-automatic rifles”, and below was the translation in Chinese.
Hundreds of people turned out Tuesday night for a candlelight vigil at City Hall in Monterey Park. They carried wooden hearts with the names of the victims. A woman helped her daughter place flowers as an offering.
There have been six killings in the United States so far this year, and the Monterey Park massacre was the deadliest attack since May 24, when 21 people were killed at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
The Half Moon Bay shootings occurred less than 48 hours later, when Chunli Zhao, 66, shot five people, killing four, at the mushroom farm where he worked, authorities said. She subsequently drove to another nearby farm, which she also worked on, and murdered three other people.
The victims were Asian and Hispanic, and some of them were migrant day laborers.
One of the workers killed was Marciano Martínez Jiménez, 50, his brother, Servando Martínez Jiménez, told The Associated Press. He was from the Mexican state of Oaxaca and had lived in the United States for 28 years.
“He was a good person,” she said. “He was nice to everyone, friendly. He never had a problem with anyone. I don’t understand why all this happened.”
The shootings became the worst massacre in San Mateo County history.
“We have never had one in this county with so many deaths in one place,” said District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.
Zhao was detained after police officers found him in his vehicle in the parking lot of a county police substation.
Eamonn Allen, a spokesman for the San Mateo Police Department, declined to answer whether Zhao had a criminal record, but said “there were no specific indicators that would lead us to believe that he would be capable of doing such a thing.”
However, The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Zhao was charged 10 years ago with threatening to split a co-worker’s head open with a knife and, in a separate incident, tried to suffocate the man with a pillow, according to documents. of the court.
Authorities haven’t released much information about Tran, who owned a trucking company in Monterey Park from 2002 to 2004, according to California business records.
He was arrested in 1990 for unlawful possession of a firearm and had a limited criminal record, Luna said. The police chief did not disclose whether arrests for possession of a firearm at that time, when firearms laws were different, would have prevented him from having weapons.
At some point, Tran frequented the two dance studios and complained about the way he believed the other attendees treated him, a man who only identified himself as an old friend told The Associated Press.
Tran was perpetually suspicious and paranoid, frequently complaining that the people who attended the studios didn’t like him, said the acquaintance who spoke of Tran on condition of anonymity because he wanted to avoid press attention.
Investigators are also looking into the two reports Tran filed this month with police in the town where he lived, saying his relatives had tried to poison, defrauded and robbed him a decade or two ago in the Los Angeles area, Hemet police spokesman Alan Reyes told The Associated Press. Tran never delivered the documentation that he had promised to submit.
Los Angeles County police officers conducted an inspection Monday at Tran’s residence in a nursing home in Hemet, a town just over an hour’s drive from the scene of the massacre. Agents found a .308 caliber rifle, an unknown number of bullets and evidence that he was making homemade silencers.
Newsom said he deliberately avoided press conferences in Los Angeles to meet with community residents, the injured and hero Brandon Tsay, who disarmed Tran.
During his visit to Monterey Park, a woman on the verge of tears drove up in her vehicle and asked the governor to assure her three daughters that everything would be okay. Her 8-year-old daughter had heard the shots and she knew it was not fireworks. She stayed up all night and was afraid to go to school, her mother said.
“Everything is going to get better,” Newsom told the girl.
But in front of a group of dozens of politicians, police officers and reporters who gathered in Half Moon Bay, he expressed relief that he wasn’t forced to make a pinky-locking promise like his own 8-year-old daughter would. “Because he wasn’t so sure.”
Rodriguez reported from Half Moon Bay and Melley from Los Angeles.
Associated Press writers Joshua Boak, in Washington; Larry Fenn, in New York; Alanna Durkin Richer, in Boston; and Julie Watson, in San Diego, contributed to this report.
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