MONTEREY PARK, Calif. — Hundreds of mourners gathered Wednesday night for a vigil outside the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, a typically quiet Los Angeles suburb that is now home to one of the worst tragedies in county history.
Members of the community brought flowers, incense and candles, which twinkled in place of the 11 people who once danced and laughed in the legendary hall that served as a meeting place.
“I’m really out of words,” said Monterey Park native Andy Luu. “This could have been prevented.”
The shooting suspect had not been to the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in five years, and investigators have so far found no connection between him and the victims, Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said Wednesday night.
Twenty people were shot Saturday night during a celebration of the Lunar New Year, about an hour after tens of thousands of people attended the festivities in the city.
The suspect, who died Sunday of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, showed up at a second dance hall shortly after the shooting but was disarmed and fled.
California native Kamala Harris visited what has become 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.
She placed a large bouquet of yellow and white flowers next to dozens of others and told reporters that “Congress needs to act.”
“Tragically, we keep saying the same thing,” she said, referring to the number of recent mass shootings in the US
When asked if congressional leaders could pass gun safety laws, she replied, “Yes.”
“Should they do something? Yes. Will they do something? That’s where we all need to speak up,” Harris added.
Moments after Harris boarded her motorcade, grieving Priscilla Wong burst into sobs.
A longtime regular at the dance studio, she lost several friends on Saturday night, including Diana Tom, a hard-working mother and grandmother who loved to dance.
“I promised them I wouldn’t come because my kids are scared,” she said. “But I feel guilty that I’m not here.”
Los Angeles artist Noah Reich helped build the altars for the victims of Monterey Park. He said he and his partner have also erected public monuments to victims of mass shootings in Sacramento, California; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Buffalo, New York; Highland Park, Illinois; and Uvalde, Texas.
The idea came to them after the 2016 mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, which killed 49 people and injured 53. Reich said that as a gay man, he deeply sympathizes with the Asian community of Monterey Park and mourns not only the loss of life, but also the loss of a safe place.
“I keep thinking back to Pulse Nightclub,” he said. “They were just dancing. These were all just people dancing.”
Late Wednesday night, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department issued public updates on the Star Ballroom shooting for the first time since Monday.
Luna, the sheriff, said investigators discovered a motorcycle on Wednesday that the suspect is believed to have parked a block from the dance hall just before the shooting. He said the suspect appeared to have left the motorcycle, described as a “street bike,” there as an alternate getaway vehicle.
Investigators also determined that the gun believed to have been used in the shooting — a compact semi-automatic and sometimes automatic firearm known as a MAC-10 — was not registered in California, said Luna, the sheriff’s office.
Luna said the suspect bought the gun in Monterey Park in 1999, but he didn’t know if he got it from a dealer or a private party, or if it had been modified. Two other gun authorities linked to the suspect — a rifle and a handgun — were registered in the state, Luna said.
Officials are still identifying a possible motive, he said.
“Sometimes it’s frustrating when something like this happens that is so tragic and we try to understand it and it doesn’t make sense,” Luna said.