Monterey Park police chief defends delayed warning of suspect on the loose

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MONTEREY PARK, Calif. (TUSEN) — The police chief in the California town where 20 people were shot — 11 fatally — in a ballroom dance hall defended his decision not to warn the public for hours that a killer was on the loose, saying Wednesday he didn’t have enough information to effectively warn residents.

Monterey Park Chief Scott Wiese said police in the region had been alerted and there was no point in sending an overnight warning to residents of the predominantly Asian-American city, even after learning the suspect had turned himself in after the massacre. may have aimed at a nearby dance club.

“I’m not going to send my agents door-to-door waking people up and telling them we’re looking for a male Asian in Monterey Park,” Wiese told The The US Express News. “It won’t do us any good.”

The shooting at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio at 10:22 p.m. on Saturday occurred about an hour after tens of thousands of people attended New Year’s festivities in the city. The public was not made aware of the mass shooting for five hours, raising questions as to why a warning had not been sent to people in the area.

Eric Sham visits a makeshift memorial to those killed in a mass shooting at The Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park on Tuesday.

Sarah Reingewirtz/The Orange County Register via TUSEN

Tran fled in a white van before officers arrived at the scene of the chaotic massacre and about 20 minutes later entered another dance hall in nearby Alhambra, where an employee confronted and disarmed him during a brief struggle.

Chris Grollnek, an active shooting expert, said police should never have waited so long to warn the public about the potential threat posed by a gunman in general. The city had access to an automated warning system, and spreading even a little information was better than nothing.

“They should have announced it sooner,” Grollnek said. “I think everyone is lucky not to have come to a third location.”

Wiese, who was sworn in as chief two days before the shooting on Saturday, said he was quick to learn of the second incident at the Lai Lai Ballroom, but it was not immediately clear that the two were connected.

Patrol officers in Monterey Park and Alhambra exchanged details of their two incidents, prompting investigators to investigate a possible connection, Wiese said.

“We put that together pretty quickly, but we still had very limited information,” he said.

Monterey Park Police Chief Scott Wiese speaks to reporters Tuesday at a memorial outside the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, California.
Monterey Park Police Chief Scott Wiese speaks to reporters Tuesday at a memorial outside the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, California.

Wiese said they were gathering information from some 40 witnesses – many of whom did not speak English – and did not want to broadcast false information. He said notifying other local, state and federal agencies gave them the opportunity to disclose it.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said his department’s decision to release information was “strategic” but promised a review of the timeline.

“When we started disseminating public information, the priority was to take this person into custody,” Luna said Monday. His department, which handles the investigation, has not released any information about the shooting since Monday.

The first press conference about the shooting was held Sunday morning by a sheriff’s captain. Several hours later, Tran was found dead in his van from a self-inflicted gunshot, authorities said. A firearm was found in the vehicle.

The killings during what should have been joyful New Year’s celebrations sparked fear among Asian-American communities that were already experiencing rising hatred and violence against them.

Less than 48 hours later, a gunman in Northern California shot and killed eight farm workers — killing seven — at mushroom farms in Half Moon Bay. The shooter was of Chinese descent and most of the victims were Asian.

Outside the locked gates of Star Dance Studio, a popular venue for older Asian Americans, a memorial grew taller Wednesday with mounds of bouquets and balloons.

Sabine Slome, who works as a pharmaceutical sales representative in town, cried after paying her respects and leaving flowers.

“I just pray that we will learn from this,” she said. “It’s just heartbreaking. How many more shootings?”

“Monterey Park, I hope you know how loved you are,” one message read.

Large photos of seven of the victims were backed and framed by white roses. Flowers frame the names of the other four dead.

“This is where we eat out,” says Ryan Yamada, who was with his 74-year-old mother. “We can’t pretend this is someone else’s problem.”

Vice President Kamala Harris visited the monument in the parking lot of the dance studio on Wednesday, pausing as she passed the large, rose-framed photos and names of the victims. She placed a large bouquet of yellow and white flowers next to dozens of others.

Harris spoke briefly to reporters, conveying sentiments on behalf of President Joe Biden and calling for stricter gun control laws.

“Tragically, we keep saying the same things,” Harris said. “Congress must act.”

“Can they do anything? Yes. Should they do something? Yes. Will they do something? That’s where we all need to speak up,” Harris said.

Vice President Kamala Harris leaves flowers at a makeshift memorial at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, California, on Wednesday.
Vice President Kamala Harris leaves flowers at a makeshift memorial at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, California, on Wednesday.

Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/TUSEN via Getty Images

Pope Francis was among those offering condolences, saying in a message to the Archbishop of Los Angeles that he “implores the divine gifts of healing and comfort for the wounded and bereaved.”

Wiese said he’s seen a lot during his three-decade career, but some of the first officers on the scene were rookies who had never experienced such carnage and the trauma will be hard to forget.

Paramedics loaded the injured into ambulances and treated others inside when the chief arrived. There were bodies every 10 feet, some slumped over tables, others sprawled on the dance floor.

“It’s hard to put into words,” he said. “It is breathtaking when you see it. And it kind of burns the image into your brain.”

Melley reported from Los Angeles. The US Express News journalist Julie Watson in San Diego contributed to this report.

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