Chief defends delay telling public of mass shooter at-large

MONTEREY PARK, Calif. (AP) — The police chief in the California city where 20 people were shot — 11 fatally — at 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 alert residents.

Monterey Park Chief Scott Wiese told The Associated Press that police in the region were alerted and it didn’t make sense to send out a warning at night to residents in the predominantly Asian American city even after learning the suspect may have targeted a nearby dance club after the massacre.

“I’m not going to send my officers door to door waking people up and telling them that we’re looking for a male Asian in Monterey Park,” Wiese said. "It’s not going to do us any good.”

The shooting at Star Ballroom Dance Studio at 10:22 p.m. Saturday occurred just an hour or so after tens of thousands of people attended Lunar New Year festivities in the city. The public wasn't notified of the mass shooting for five hours, raising questions about why an alert wasn't sent to people in the area.

Huu Can Tran, 72, who was said to frequent the dance hall and fancied himself as an instructor, carried out the shooting with a submachine gun-style semi-automatic weapon with large capacity magazine, authorities said.

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

Chris Grollnek, an active shooter expert, said police never should have waited so long to warn the public about the possible threat posed by a gunman at large. The city had access to an automated alert system and even putting out a little information would have been better than nothing.

“They should have gotten the word out sooner,” Grollnek said. “I think everybody’s lucky he didn’t make it to a third location.”

Wiese, who had been sworn in as chief two days before Saturday's shooting, said he quickly learned about the second incident at the Lai Lai Ballroom but it wasn't immediately clear the two were connected.

Patrol officers in Monterey Park and Alhambra traded details of their two incidents, prompting investigators to look into a potential connection, Wiese said.

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

Wiese said they were piecing together information from some 40 witnesses — many of whom didn't speak English — and didn't want to broadcast incorrect information.

The first news conference about the shooting was held Sunday morning by a captain from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Several hours later, Tran was found dead in his van from a self-inflicted gunshot, authorities said. A handgun was found in the vehicle.

The slayings during what should have been joyful Lunar New Year celebrations sent ripples of fear through Asian American communities that were already dealing with increased hatred and violence directed at them.

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

Outside the Star Dance Studio’s locked gates on Wednesday a memorial continued to grow higher with mounds of flowers and balloons. Red roses and tags were available for mourners to take and leave messages. One read, “May your PASSION for dance carry on. And may you all rest peacefully. Our hearts ache.”

Hearts were scribbled in pink and red chalk in the parking lot where the first victim was killed in her car.

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

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

“It’s shocking to see it on the news," said Kiku Yamada, 74, who only knew of the studio through its reputation in dance circles. "To be here, it’s different.”

“This is the place where we go out to eat,” said her son, Ryan Yamada. “We can’t just pretend this is some other people’s problem.”

The pope was among those offering condolences to those who were wounded and the families that lost loved ones.

Pope Francis “joins the entire community in commending the souls of those who died to Almighty God’s loving mercy and he implores the divine gifts of healing and consolation upon the injured and bereaved," read a message the Vatican sent Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez.

Vice President Kamala Harris was scheduled to meet with the families of victims in Monterey Park later Wednesday.

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Melley reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press journalist Julie Watson in San Diego contributed to this report.

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