In shooting, lives of My Nhan, Huu Can Tran, Brandon Tsay overlapped

In shooting, lives of My Nhan, Huu Can Tran, Brandon Tsay overlapped

MONTEREY PARK, California – My Nhan had been stepping, swirling and tapping her way across the worn wooden floors of the Star Ballroom Dance Studio for decades.

Nhan, 65, was a regular at Star, a single story of brick and stucco tucked between a bank building and a noodle restaurant, in this suburb one valley east of Los Angeles. 

Here, where the majority of the population is Asian, where building signs are written in Chinese characters, where half the residents were born in another country, Nhan and countless others found a true community on the floorboards of the dance halls. 

When she and her longtime dance partner, a friend for decades, took to the floor at Star or at Lai Lai Ballroom just up the road in Alhambra, they brought everyone with them. They would take a dance lesson and bring 10 friends, then take another and bring 20. They would buy fistfuls of dance-party tickets to give away. 

On Saturday night, they were set to go dancing at Star, during the celebration of Lunar New Year.

It’s an important holiday in Chinese culture. But on the dance floor, it didn’t matter where anyone was from. Chinese, Ukrainian, Vietnamese, Latino – they were all dancers together, in the mirrors on the walls.

“Dance was her life,”  dance instructor Maksym Kapitanchuk said of Nhan. “Dance was her life and she died dancing.”

Saturday about 10:20 p.m., a gunman armed with a modified semiautomatic handgun and large-capacity magazine walked into Star. 

Investigators say they believe he may have shot a man sitting in his vehicle in the parking lot outside before entering. Once he stepped inside, he opened fire, 42 shots in seconds. 

Ten people died in the initial attack. Five men, five women. One of them was Nhan. 

A sixth woman died Monday at the LAC+USC Medical Center. Authorities said all were 60 or older.

People listen to a speaker during a candlelight vigil at the Monterey Park City Hall January 23, 2023; At least 11 people were killed and 10 others wounded in a shooting rampage at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, Calif. after a Lunar New Year celebration on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023.

Graphic story:How the deadly attack at a Monterey Park dance studio unfolded

Hattie Peng told CBS News that she saw bodies on the floor almost as soon as she heard the shooting noises. Her dance partner shielded her and was hit twice, she told CBS:

“He’s my hero,” she said. “I owe him. He covered me.”

Much remains unknown about the rampage that shocked this community and the country in the midst of what should have been a celebration. Authorities have not released the identities of many of the victims.

They have not revealed a motive that may have started the attack by the gunman, identified as Huu Can Tran, 72.

They have not revealed where he went or what he did in the nearly 24 hours after the shooting. He was not found until Sunday afternoon, as police closed in on his van.

But they have identified the man who stopped what would have been the next part of the rampage. 

Brandon Tsay was standing in the lobby of Lai Lai, his family’s dance hall, when he heard the door open and close. 

The Lai Lai Ballroom & Studio in Monterey park was open January 23, 2023; The Lai Lai Ballroom & Studio was the scene where a gunman was disarmed after killing 11 an injuring 9 at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023.

Tsay’s family has owned Lai Lai for decades. He’s the third generation to run the dance hall. About 10:40 Saturday night, he would later explain, he was getting ready to go home. 

He did not know then that a man had just shot up the dance hall down the street. He would tell reporters later that he had never even seen a real gun himself. 

He only knew that he heard the metallic click of one being readied to fire.

“My first thought was, I was going to die here, this was it,” Tsay said.

But then he sprang into action, he said, grabbing the gun, punching and levering with his elbows to disarm the man. 

“Get the hell out of here! I’ll shoot! Get away! Go!” Tsay said he yelled, appearing on ABC’s Good Morning America with a cut across his nose.

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