MONTEREY PARK, Calif. Hundreds of mourners gathered for a vigil Wednesday night outside the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, a typically quiet Los Angeles suburb now home to one of the worst tragedies in the county’s history.
Community members brought flowers, incense and candles, which flickered in place of the 11 people who once danced and laughed inside the historic venue that has served as a gathering place.
“Honestly, I’m at a loss for words,” said Andy Luu, who was born in Monterey Park. “This could have been prevented.”
Twenty people were shot on Saturday night during the Lunar New Year celebration, just an hour after tens of thousands of people turned out for festivities in the city.
The suspect, who died Sunday of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, showed up at a second ballroom minutes after the shooting but was unarmed and fled.
Vice President Kamala Harris, a California native, visited what became a large memorial in the parking lot of the dance studio Wednesday night, pausing somberly at each of the large, rose-framed photos of the victims.
He placed a large bouquet of yellow and white flowers next to many others, telling reporters that “Congress must act.”
“Tragically, we keep saying the same thing,” he said, referring to the number of recent mass shootings in the United States.
When asked if congressional leaders could enact gun safety laws, he said “Yes.”
“Should they do something? Yes. Will they do something? That’s where we all need to talk,” Harris added.
Moments after Harris boarded her trailer, the grieving Priscilla Wong burst into loud sobs.
She was a longtime regular at the dance studio and lost several friends on Saturday night, including Diana Tom, a working mother and grandmother who loved to dance.
“I promised them that I would not come because my children are afraid,” she said. “But I feel guilty for not being here.”
Los Angeles artist Noah Reich helped build the altars for the victims of Monterey Park. He said he and his partner have also created public memorials for the victims of mass shootings in Sacramento; colorado springs, colorado; Buffalo, New York; Highland Park, Ill.; and Uvalde, Texas.
The idea came to them after the 2016 mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, in which 49 people were killed and 53 injured. As a gay man, Reich says he deeply sympathizes with Monterey Park’s Asian community and mourns not only the loss of life, but also the loss of a safe space.
“I keep thinking about Pulse Nightclub,” he said. “They were just dancing. They were just people dancing.”
On Wednesday night, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department gave its first public updates since Monday on the Star Ballroom shooting.
County Sheriff Robert Luna told reporters the suspect had not been to the ballroom in five years and investigators found no connection between him and the victims.
Investigators determined that the weapon believed to have been used in the shooting, a compact semi-automatic and sometimes automatic firearm known as the MAC-10, was not registered in California, Luna said.
Luna said the suspect bought the gun in 1999 in Monterey Park, but he didn’t know if he bought it from a dealer or a private person, nor did he know if it had been modified. Two other weapons authorities linked to the suspect, a rifle and a pistol, were registered with the state, Luna said.
Investigators also discovered a motorcycle Wednesday that the suspect is believed to have parked a block from the ballroom just before the shooting, Luna said. She described the motorcycle as a “street bike” and said the suspect appeared to have left it there as an alternate getaway vehicle.
Investigators are still working to identify a possible motive, he said.
“Sometimes it’s frustrating when something like this happens that’s so tragic and we’re trying to figure it out and it doesn’t make sense,” he said.