MONTEREY PARK, Calif. (AP) — After the worst massacre in Los Angeles County history, the California governor was meeting with gunshot victims in the hospital when he was pulled away and informed of a mass shooting at the other end of the state.
The news that a gunman killed seven people on mushroom farms on a scenic stretch of Northern California coast came just hours after Gov. Gavin Newsom spoke about his fatigue and frustration at mass shootings.
“I can’t go on,” he told reporters Monday in Monterey Park, where 11 people were killed at a dance studio. “To say the same thing over and over again is madness.”
In a sometimes full of anger and emotional voice, Newsom said he consulted notes he used in previous mass shootings: the 2018 killing of 12 at a country and western bar in Thousand Oaks; killing three and wounding 17 at the 2019 Gilroy Garlic Festival; the killing of nine workers at a San Jose rail yard in 2021.
“I started writing in ‘Monterey Park,'” Newsom said. “And now I have to write in ‘Half Moon Bay.’ What the hell is going on?”
A 66-year-old farm worker has been charged with murder and attempted murder after shooting eight people and killing seven. Authorities said there was a case of workplace violence in the rich agricultural area between the Pacific Ocean and the coastal mountains.
In Monterey Park, a 72-year-old gunman shot into a dance hall at an Asian-American community celebrating the Lunar New Year Saturday night, injuring nine people in addition to the 11 dead. The shooter later took his own life.
A week earlier, at least two attackers fatally shot a 16-year-old mother hugging her 10-month-old baby and killed four others in a brazen attack in a central California farming community that remained unsolved.
“Our hearts are with the people of California,” President Joe Biden said Tuesday at a meeting with senior Democratic congressmen. “It’s been a tough, tough few days.”
Biden noted that Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced an assault weapons ban and urged lawmakers to pass it.
Newsom also called for stricter gun safety laws, specifically targeting the large-capacity magazines — like the one the dance studio gunman had — and what he dubbed “weapons of the damn war.”
“It’s like ‘Only in America’ all the time,” he said. “No. 1 for gun ownership, #1 for gun deaths. It’s not even complicated.”
While California has the highest number of fatal mass shootings — 49, including the most recent three — it had previously ranked 31st when adjusted as the country’s most populous state with nearly 40 million residents.
According to the latest available 2020 statistics, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks California as the country with the seventh lowest rate of death from guns per 100,000 people. It is the 20th lowest in terms of murder rate not limited to shootings.
With the killings back-to-back, investigators on both ends of the state were trying to answer the question that often goes unanswered in the face of senseless violence: Why?
Los Angeles Sheriff Robert Luna called the dance hall shooter, 72-year-old Huu Can Tran, a “crazy man” and said investigators were looking into whether he had ties to the people working at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio were shot.
Tran fired 42 rounds at the ballroom popular with older Asian Americans. He then drove to another nearby dance venue, where an employee snatched a modified 9mm submachine gun from him, Luna said.
Tran fatally shot himself on Sunday as officers surrounded the van he was in. A handgun was recovered from the van that matched descriptions of the vehicle he used to get away from the dance studio.
Mounds of flowers, including dozens of yellow and white mums, were left outside the studio’s closed gates on Tuesday. On a brick pillar by the gates someone taped a piece of blue paper typed “Ban Semi-automatic Rifles” with a translation in Chinese underneath.
Hundreds of people attended a candlelight vigil at City Hall in Monterey Park on Tuesday night. Wooden hearts bore the names of the victims. A woman helped her young daughter lay flowers at the monuments. “There are so many,” she said, her voice shaking. “We won’t have enough.”
There have been six mass killings so far this year in the US, and the Monterey Park shooting was the deadliest attack since May 24 when 21 people were killed at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
The Half Moon Bay killings came less than 48 hours later, when 66-year-old Chunli Zhao shot five people and killed four at a mushroom farm where he worked, authorities said. He then drove to a farm where he had once worked nearby and fatally shot three other people.
The victims were Asian and Hispanic, and some were migrant workers.
One of the workers killed was Marciano Martinez Jimenez, 50, his brother Servando Martinez Jimenez told The Associated Press. He came from the Mexican state of Oaxaca and lived in the USA for 28 years.
“He was a good person,” Martinez Jimenez said in Spanish. “He was polite and friendly to everyone. He never had problems with anyone. I don’t understand why all this happened.”
The farm shootings were the largest mass murder in San Mateo County.
“We’ve never had one in this county with so many deaths in one place or time,” District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said.
Zhao was arrested after officers found him in his car in the parking lot of a sheriff’s substation.
Eamonn Allen, a spokesman for the San Mateo County Sheriff, declined to answer whether Zhao had a criminal history, but said, “There were no specific indications that would have led us to believe he was capable of any such thing would.”
However, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Zhao was accused 10 years ago of threatening to split open a colleague’s head with a knife and separately attempting to suffocate the man with a pillow, based on court documents.
Authorities have revealed little about Tran, who briefly owned a trucking company in Monterey Park from 2002 to 2004, according to California business records.
He was arrested once for illegal gun possession in 1990 and had a limited criminal history, Luna said. The sheriff could not immediately say whether a gun arrest at a time when gun laws were different would have barred him from gun ownership.
Tran once visited the ballroom and another dance hall he later targeted and complained about how he thought people were treating him there, a man posing as a longtime friend told The Associated Press.
Constantly suspicious and paranoid, Tran regularly complained that people at the clubs didn’t like him, according to the former boyfriend, who requested anonymity to talk about Tran because he wanted to avoid the media limelight.
Investigators were also looking into reports Tran made to police officers in the city where he lived twice this month that family members tried to poison him, cheated on him and stole from him in the LA area a decade or two ago , Hemet police spokesman Alan Reyes told The Associated Press. Tran never returned with the promised paperwork.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies Monday searched Trans’ home in a gated community in Hemet, just over an hour’s drive from the site of the massacre. Officers found a .308 caliber rifle, an unknown number of bullets, and evidence that he made homemade firearm silencers that deaden the sound of the guns.
Newsom said he purposely avoided press conferences in Los Angeles to meet with community residents, people injured by gunfire and hero Brandon Tsay, who disarmed Tran.
While he was in Monterey Park, a teary-eyed mother rolled up in her car and asked him to reassure her three daughters that everything was fine. Her eight-year-old heard the shots and knew they weren’t firecrackers. She didn’t sleep at night and was afraid to go to school, her mother said.
Newsom told the girl, “It’s getting better.”
But speaking to a group of dozens of politicians, law enforcement officials and reporters gathered in Half Moon Bay, he said he was relieved she didn’t get him to put pinky fingers and promise like his own 8th… -year-old daughter would do. “Because I wasn’t so sure.”
Rodriguez reported from Half Moon Bay, Melley from Los Angeles. Associated Press journalists Sophie Austin in Sacramento, Joshua Boak in Washington, Larry Fenn in New York, Alanna Durkin Richer in Boston, and Julie Watson in San Diego contributed to this report.
Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.
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