by Romain FONSEGRIVES and Gilles CLARENNE
Police in California on Sunday launched a manhunt for an Asian man suspected in a shooting that left 10 people dead and 10 others wounded at a dance club during Lunar New Year celebrations.
The “male suspect fled the scene and remains outstanding,” Los Angeles County sheriff Robert Luna told a press conference in Monterey Park. He cautioned that the description of the shooter remains preliminary.
The gunman opened fire amid Lunar New Year celebrations at a Monterey Park dance hall, with witnesses saying he shot indiscriminately with a semiautomatic weapon.
Luna said police responded to emergency calls at 10:22pm Saturday (6:22 Sunday GMT) and found people pouring out of the premises.
City firefighters treated the injured before sending them to area hospitals, where Luna said their conditions ranged from stable to critical.
“Unfortunately,” he added, “they did pronounce 10 of the victims deceased at the scene.”
Five of the dead were women and five men, officials said, without providing ages or names.
The sheriff said he did not believe the shooter used an assault rifle, but he did not elaborate.
Luna also described a second incident in nearby Alhambra some 20 minutes later, in which an Asian man carrying a gun walked into a dance studio but was tackled and disarmed. The man fled and no injuries were reported.
Alhambra is about two miles north of Monterey Park. Luna said investigators were probing whether the incidents were related.
On Sunday, sheriff’s deputies in Monterey Park secured the shooting scene, an AFP reporter said.
White tents erected for the New Year celebration remained standing. A banner hung above the street read “Happy Year of the Rabbit.”
“It’s a really sad thing,” Ken Nim, a data-center worker out walking his dog, told AFP. “Usually you don’t see much happening here.”
Monterey Park, only a few miles from downtown Los Angeles, is home to around 60,000 people, the majority of them Asian or Asian American.
“We don’t know if this is specifically a hate crime defined by law,” Luna said, “but who walks into a dance hall and guns down 20 people?”
Although the gunman remained on the loose, the sheriff said it was safe for people to attend area Lunar New Year events.
US President Joe Biden tweeted that he and his wife Jill were “praying for those killed and injured in last night’s deadly mass shooting in Monterey Park,” adding, “I’m monitoring this situation closely.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sent his condolences, tweeting, “My heart breaks for the people of Monterey Park.”
The shooting was the deadliest in the US since a shooter in Uvalde, Texas killed 22 people at an elementary school last May 24.
Monterey Park resident Wong Wei told the Los Angeles Times his friend had been in the dance club’s bathroom when the shooting erupted.
When she emerged, she saw a man carrying a long gun and firing indiscriminately. The bodies of two women and a man lay on the floor.
The paper reported that Seung Won Choi, who owns a nearby restaurant, said three people had run into the establishment and told him to lock the door.
The three told Choi there was a man with a semiautomatic gun who had multiple rounds of ammunition and repeatedly reloaded.
Tens of thousands of people had gathered earlier for the two-day Lunar New Year festival, one of the area’s largest. Events planned for Sunday were cancelled after the attack.
“My heart is broken for the victims, their families, and the people of my hometown,” Representative Judy Chu, a former mayor of Monterey Park, said on Twitter.
Chu had been at the scene, joining the festivities hours before the shooting, when the crowd was still large. “This could have been so much worse,” she said.
Officials said detectives were reviewing surveillance video and did not yet know whether the suspect was targeting a particular group.
The US Department of Justice said there were over 7 000 reported hate crimes in the United States in 2021, two-thirds of them race-related.
Gun violence is a huge problem in the United States, which last year saw 647 mass shootings, with at least four people shot or killed by a shooter, according to the Gun Violence Archive website.
Across the US, more than 44 000 people died from gunshot wounds in 2022, more than half of which were suicides.
The country has more weapons than people.