MONTEREY PARK, California — In the aftermath of the worst massacre in Los Angeles County history, California’s governor encountered gunfire at the hospital as he was pulled away and briefed on a mass shooting on the other side of the state.
The report that a gunman had killed seven people at mushroom farms in a scenic coastal area of Northern California came just hours after Governor Gavin Newsom spoke of his fatigue and frustration over mass shootings.
“I can’t keep doing them,” he told reporters earlier Monday in Monterey Park, where 11 people were killed in a dance studio. “It’s insane to say the same thing over and over again.”
Yet Newsom was in Half Moon Bay on Tuesday to address the third mass shooting in just over a week in a state with some of the country’s strictest gun laws and lowest gun death rates.
His voice full of anger and at times emotional, Newsom said he consulted notes he’d used in previous mass shootings: the 2018 murder of 12 people at a country and western bar in Thousand Oaks; killing three and injuring 17 at the 2019 Gilroy Garlic Festival; the murder of nine workers at a San Jose rail yard in 2021.
“I started writing in ‘Monterey Park,'” Newsom said. “And now I must write, ‘Half Moon Bay.’ What the hell is going on?”
A 66-year-old farm worker was charged with murder and attempted murder after shooting eight people and killing seven in a crime that authorities say was a case of workplace violence in the rich agricultural region that stretches between the Pacific Ocean and the coastal mountains. lies.
In Monterey Park, a 72-year-old gunman shot into a dance hall at an Asian-American community celebrating New Year’s Eve on Saturday night, injuring nine people in addition to killing 11. The shooter later took his own life.
A week earlier, at least two assailants shot dead a 16-year-old mother holding her 10-month-old baby and killed four others in a brutal attack in a central California farming community that went unsolved.
“Our hearts are with the people of California,” President Joe Biden said Tuesday during a meeting with Democratic congressional leaders. “It’s been a tough, tough few days.”
Biden noted that Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has introduced an assault weapons ban, and urged lawmakers to approve it.
Newsom also called for stricter gun safety laws, targeting in particular the high-capacity magazines — such as the one from the dance studio shooter — and what he called “damned guns of war.”
“It’s said all the time, ‘Only in America,'” he said. “No. 1 in gun ownership, No. 1 in gun deaths. It’s not even complicated.”
The recent killings have lifted California five slots to 26th in the number of fatal mass shootings per capita in the US since 2006, according to a USA TODAY/TUSEN/Northeastern University mass murder database. The database only counts murders of at least four people.
While California has the highest number of fatal mass shootings — 49, including the recent three — it ranked 31st beforehand, adjusted for the nation’s most populous state of nearly 40 million.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, California has the 7th lowest gun death rate in the country per 100,000 residents, according to the most recent statistics available as of 2020. It is the 20th lowest in terms of murder rates, which are not limited to shootings.
With the successive killings, detectives at both ends of the state sought to answer the question that often goes unanswered with senseless violence: Why?
Los Angeles Sheriff Robert Luna called the dance hall gunman, 72-year-old Huu Can Tran, a “crazy man” and said investigators were investigating whether he had any relationships with the people who were shot at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio.
Tran fired 42 shots in the ballroom popular with older Asian Americans. He then drove to another dance hall nearby where an employee wrested a modified 9mm submachine gun-like weapon from him, Luna said.
Tran shot himself to death on Sunday as officers surrounded the van he was in. A gun was recovered from the van that matched the descriptions of the vehicle in which he got away from the dance studio.
Mountains of flowers, including dozens of yellow and white mothers, were left outside the closed gates of the studio on Tuesday. On a stone pillar next to the gate, someone pasted a piece of blue paper with the typed “Ban Semi-automatic Rifles” and a Chinese translation below it.
Hundreds of people showed up Tuesday night for a candlelight vigil at Monterey Park City Hall. The names of the victims were written on wooden hearts. A woman helped her young daughter place flowers on the memorials. “There are so many,” she said in a trembling voice. “We won’t have enough.”
There have been six mass murders in the US so far this year, and the Monterey Park shootings were the deadliest since May 24, when 21 people died 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 at a mushroom farm where he worked, leaving four dead, authorities said. He then drove to a farm he once worked near, and shot and killed 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 The US Express News. He was from the Mexican state of Oaxaca and lived in the US for 28 years.
“He was a good man,” said Martinez Jimenez in Spanish. “He was polite and friendly to everyone. He never had any problems with anyone. I don’t understand why all this happened.”
The ranch shootings were the largest mass killings in San Mateo County.
“We’ve never had one in this county with so many deaths in one place or one time,” said District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.
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’s Department, declined to answer whether Zhao had a criminal history, but said “there were no specific indicators that would have led us to believe he was capable of such a thing.”
However, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that 10 years ago, Zhao was charged with threatening to split open a colleague’s head with a knife and separately trying to suffocate the man with a pillow, based on court documents.
Authorities have shared little about Tran, who briefly owned a transportation company in Monterey Park from 2002 to 2004, according to California company records.
He was arrested once in 1990 for unlawful possession of a firearm and had a limited criminal history, Luna said. The sheriff couldn’t immediately say whether a gun arrest in a time when gun laws were different would have prevented him from owning guns.
Tran once visited the ballroom and another dance hall he later turned to and complained about the way he thought people treated him there, a man who identified himself as an old friend told The The US Express News.
Perpetually suspicious and paranoid, Tran frequently complained that people in the clubs didn’t like him, according to the former friend who asked for anonymity to talk about Tran because he wanted to avoid the media’s attention.
Investigators were also looking into reports Tran filed twice this month with police in the city where he lived that family members tried to poison, scam and steal from him a decade or two ago in the LA area, he said. Hemet police spokesman Alan Reyes told The The US Express News. Tran never returned with any documentation he promised to provide.
Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies searched Tran’s home in a gated senior community in Hemet on Monday. Officers found a .308 caliber rifle, an unknown number of bullets and evidence that he made homemade firearm suppressors that muffle the guns’ sound.
Newsom said he purposely avoided press conferences in Los Angeles to meet community residents, people injured by gunfire and the hero, Brandon Tsay, who disarmed Tran.
While he was in Monterey Park, a teary-eyed mother rolled into her car and asked him to reassure her three daughters that everything would be fine. Her 8-year-old had heard the gunfire and knew it wasn’t fireworks. She hadn’t slept at night and was afraid to go to school, the mother said.
Newsom told the girl, “It’s getting better.”
But to a group of dozens of politicians, law enforcement and reporters gathered in Half Moon Bay, he said he was relieved she didn’t force him to clench his pinky fingers and promise like his own 8-year-old daughter would. “Because I wasn’t so sure.”
Rodriguez reported from Half Moon Bay, Melley from Los Angeles. The US Express News 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.
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