As It Happens·As It Happens Q&A

California community coming together after Lunar New Year shooting, says local official

Thomas Wong, a council member in Monterey Park, Calif., says the full scope of the tragedy that unfolded in his community this weekend hasn’t fully hit him yet.

11 people killed after gunman opened fire at a dance studio

Four people stand outside with solemn expressions. Two are holding hands, and one is holding a bouquet of purple roses.
Community members hold a prayer vigil Sunday near the scene of a deadly shooting in Monterey Park, Calif. (Allison Dinner/Reuters)

Coun. Thomas Wong says the full scope of the tragedy that unfolded in his community over the weekend hasn't fully hit him yet.

Wong sits on the city council in Monterey Park, Calif., where a gunman opened fire at a dance studio during a Lunar New Year celebration. The death toll rose to 11 on Monday, and nine others are wounded.

The 72-year-old suspected gunman, Huu Can Tran, was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on Sunday in the van that authorities say he used to flee after being prevented from attacking people at another dance hall.

Since news of the shooting broke, Wong has been at city hall, co-ordinating with his colleagues to support those affected. That's where he was when he spoke to As It Happens host Nil Koksal on Monday afternoon.

Here is part of their conversation.

How did you learn that something was happening? 

I learned, like most people, just with the news breaking.

So many people were in the midst of the Lunar New Year celebrations. Was that what you were doing when you started seeing this? 

Yeah. This weekend was the Lunar New Year here and around the world. A lot of ... Asian communities were celebrating. And for this to happen adds additional weight in terms of the tragedy for us, and the amount of hurt [on] what should have been … a time where family and friends and loved ones come together to celebrate and welcome a time of hope, a new year.

Instead, it was a time of extraordinary difficulty and tragedy, and we're grappling with that now. And I think I, like many others, are still trying to process this and understand.

A man sets up a camera on a tripod outside a building with Chinese lettering and the words: "Star Dance Studio."
Coun. Thomas Wong says the dance studio where the shooting took place was a staple of the community, especially for Asian American elders. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

You're a leader in the community, but you're a human being and you're an Asian American. So how are you doing? 

I'm doing OK, considering. It hasn't quite hit me. It's been almost non-stop since yesterday morning. 

My colleagues and I on the city council and our mayor and regional leaders have been just here trying to see how we can help and provide support to the community and leadership. 

We've been trying to take breaks and take care of ourselves here and there. And it's been very encouraging to have my friends, neighbours, colleagues from other cities and surrounding communities show up and show support. There's been a great outpouring.

When I think of dance studios, they're such, you know, wonderful places, safe spaces, joyful spaces. And I understand this particular dance studio was popular with the Asian community. Just what can you tell us about it? 

It's a long-time staple in that community, in that neighbourhood. It provided a place for, particularly, our senior Asian Americans in the community ... to dance, to take lessons, to have fun with each other. I have friends who have taken lessons there.

I believe the evening of the shooting was just … a gathering of friends and others to celebrate and welcome the New Year.

Two people with glasses stand in a crowd, their arms wrapped around each other.
Two people hold each other during a vigil for the victims. Wong says the community has been coming together to support one another. (Allison Dinner/Reuters)

Based on what you've seen so far, did you know anyone that was involved?

So far, I haven't seen anyone directly that I know as one of the victims. I have heard from at least one friend who has a relative that was one of the victims and, as next of kin, he had been notified.

I imagine there will be more in our community with close ties to those who have passed away. 

Have you learned anything further about the person who was responsible? 

We haven't. The investigation continues to go on, and I think it'll be several days or weeks before we have much more definitive information.

[There are] lot of questions I have, and the community has, about motive. What was behind this? What was the context? What drove this? And what can we do in the future to stop things like this from happening again? 

And I'm looking forward to, hopefully, getting some of those answers.

We have a long period of grieving and mourning and recovery, but we will heal and we'll do it together.- Monterey Park, Calif., Coun. Thomas Wong

The elders in the Asian community are so crucial and so respected and revered. Is there any specific support for seniors in the community right now, given what has happened? 

Our elders are precious to us, and we have a very vibrant senior elder population here in Monterey Park and in the surrounding communities. We're providing support to them and to anyone else who's been impacted by this at our community's senior centre ... just a short way away from the scene of the shooting.

Three women standing outside and looking mournful.
Women grieve and pay their respects at a makeshift memorial outside the Star Dance Studio in Monterey Park, Calif. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

Throughout the pandemic and since there has been an increase in anti-Asian racism across the United States. And now this deadly incident. I just wondered what you'd want to say to people in the community across the country, but also around the world, who are watching and hurting even more now. 

We don't know the motive for this specific case, at least not yet. But there's no doubt, there's no question that this is ... an act of violence and hate. And an act like this is always meant to instill fear in our community. 

Regardless of that, our community is going to come together. I have already seen it and I'm seeing it. We're coming together. We're supporting each other, and we're going to come out of this stronger. And I truly believe that. 

I'm seeing that as community members, and my own family ... we've been all reaching out to each other to check in and to provide support in our neighbours as well. And I fully expect that we will pull through this. 

We have a long period of grieving and mourning and recovery, but we will heal and we'll do it together.

With files from The Associated Press. Interview produced by Katie Geleff. Q&A edited for length and clarity.

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