Lunar New Year Tragedy in LA


Credit: AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

At 10:20 PM on Saturday, January 21, 2023, a gunman opened fire on a ballroom in Monterey Park, California. Ten people were killed immediately, and one has since died from related injuries. Those in the ballroom, which had a largely elderly audience, had been celebrating the Lunar New Year.

The celebration of the Year of the Rabbit, which is normally celebrated with traditions such as eating pig’s feet and exchanging red envelopes of money, was thus shadowed by tragedy. It was intended to be the first time the holiday was able to be celebrated in full since the COVID-19 pandemic. Many festivities for the second day were canceled, but some continued with extra security, such as a parade in Westminster. Some restaurant owners continued the tradition of giving red envelopes to their employees despite fears of returning to work after the event. “Having this tragedy on one of our most important holidays … it feels very personal to our community. There is still that feeling of being targeted, and being fearful, when we hear about a shooting like this,” said Connie Chung Joe, CEO of the nonprofit Asian Americans Advancing Justice Southern California, according to the Associated Press.

The shooter has been identified as a 72-year-old Asian man who shot himself while being pursued by police. While his motive remains unknown for certain, according to the Associated Press, close friends have explained that though he had often visited the ballroom, he had complained of how he felt that he was treated by others there. He had previously been arrested for the illegal possession of a firearm in 1990.

The gunman had first opened fire on the Star Ballroom Dance Studio. He then attempted to do the same at the Lai Lai Ballroom but was stopped by people in the ballroom who seized his weapon. One of them was Brandon Tsay, a part-time worker at the Lai Lai Ballroom, which was opened by his grandparents. “Something came over me. I realized I needed to get the weapon away from him, I needed to take this weapon, disarm him or else everybody would have died. When I got the courage, I lunged at him with both my hands, grabbed the weapon and we had a struggle,” he said.

According to The Guardian, this shooting was the deadliest single shooting in the United States since the massacre in Uvalde, Texas, where nineteen children and two teachers were killed. It was also the second mass shooting in less than a week in California, the other occurring in Tulare county in the northern half of the state, which was suspected to be related to gang violence and resulted in six deaths. These statistics are based on the definition of a mass shooting as a shooting that results in four deaths excluding the offender.

A vigil was held in memorial of the victims on January 22 by faith leaders and community members in Monterey Park, where the Asian population makes up seventy percent of its overall population.