MONTEREY PARK, Calif. — Roughly a thousand people gathered Tuesday evening for a vigil honoring the 11 people killed on the eve of Lunar New Year, a time traditionally of family gathering and festivity.
Many wept as they talked about the victims in Monterey Park. Many also expressed bewilderment at the nation’s mass shooting problem, after two separate California attacks killed 18 people and left communities in shock.
“This was a horrific act of violence, not only against our community, but our humanity,” Amy Lee, the newly elected city treasurer of Monterey Park, told mourners. “I wish I had the words to comfort you, to make you feel safe. I wish I could tell you why. But we may never know.”
Large floral arrangements, wreaths and many candles, balloons and makeshift memorials were spread across the small park in front of Monterey Park’s City Hall where there also sits a memorial for Chinese and American military veterans of World War II.
Lee noted that “Mass shootings are happening everywhere at an alarming rate. It’s so easy during this time to become numb. We need to resist the urge to dismiss this as a one-time incident.”
Vice President Kamala Harris is also set to visit her home state Wednesday in the wake of the two shootings, the White House announced Tuesday as the Biden administration advances its plans for legislation to ban assault weapons. Harris will travel to Monterey Park, where 11 people were killed at a dance studio on Saturday.
“We lost 11 individuals, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles,” Lee said. “These victims were all about retirement age. This was the time of their life. They worked so hard as immigrants to build a future, and this was their time to enjoy it.”
Here’s a look at some of the emotional outpouring Tuesday:
Remembering ‘Mr. Ma’ and his dance studio
Tiffany Leung, 22, a recent University of California, Irvine graduate, grew up in Monterey Park and took tennis lessons from the daughter Ming Wei Ma, 72, who managed the Star Dance Studio, who was killed by the attacker. She had not been able to reach her tennis instructor after what happened but wanted to pay her respects to both teachers, because Mr. Ma also taught at the studio, Leung said.
Leung stood silently before the memorials doused in candlelight Tuesday night, tears welling in her eyes.
“I’m in disbelief,” she said, noting how safe the community has always felt and how little crime there typically is. “For this senseless act to happen here…and it’s from our own (community) too. It’s really hard to put into words.”
The Asian community especially teaches its young to revere their elders, and younger children are taught that it is their duty to care for aging parents.
“It’s hard to know that they’re gone, and they can’t celebrate this New Year with their family again,” Leung said. “They were just looking to, just dance. And unfortunately, it was their last dance.”
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A ‘complicated community’ remembers their loved ones
Councilman Thomas Wong told mourners that the community refused to be defined by this hateful event, that Monterey Park is not a place of fear and hate. “This is a community that so many have aspired to, from so many diverse places, looking to fulfill their dreams,” Wong said.
Wong read comments from the Phun family, who lost a loved one in the shooting.
“My aunt loved to dance. She also loved to eat and gamble,” the Phun family statement said. “Sometimes, I hear, she even tried to do all three at the same time. Much like our community, she was complicated, messy, easy to love and sometimes hard to understand from the outside.”
The family did not identify the aunt by name, but noted that she was a Chinese-Vietnamese refugee from Vietnam who had seen herself in Monterey Park’s Asian American community and “looked for and found others like her.”
“It took over 30 years before she, my uncles, and cousins were able to migrate to the United States to be reunited with our family, who were refugees that fled Vietnam in the 70s and 80s. This past month, my aunty was reunited with my cousin, her daughter, whom she had not seen in the years after they both migrated to different countries. My cousin has come to see her mother, and now to bury her.”
The family noted that their story “of war, migration, loss, love, hardship, hard work, pain and joy” is echoed by many others all over the San Gabriel Valley community.
“The stories we all share make her not only my aunty, she is also yours. The uncles that were also brutally murdered, were not only my uncles, they are also yours. They are our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, they are our family.”
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Need for gun control, mental health reform
Paul Hsu, 77, who works as a traffic and safety officer for Caltrans, and lives in Alhambra, attended the vigil and called the shooting a “total tragedy” that demonstrated the dire need for gun control. Hsu said he told Mr. Ma nearly a decade ago that Star Dance Studio in Monterey Park was in dire need of at least an armed security officer in front of the entrance, but Hsu said the idea was dismissed because it was costly to have someone stationed there.
San Gabriel Mayor Tony Ding noted after the vigil that he had been thinking a lot about how to prevent a shooting such as this one from happening again, noting that espeically after the pandemic mental health has become a major issue across the U.S.
“How can we as a community, ‘see something and say something,’ before things happen, so something like what the shooter did, doesn’t happen again,” Ding said. He said the community needs to face that mental health is a problem without stigma that can be tackled proactively to prevent future tragedies from happening again.
Ding said that after the shooting, information proliferated across WeChat, a messaging app popular with Asian Americans. Much of the information was unsubstantiated. But Ding noted that if it there was a personal issue between the shooter and someone else, using a gun to try to solve the problem only creates more problems.
The allegations of that personal relationship and jealousy has spread across Chinese language social media and messaging so much so that the Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna confirmed that detectives are also investigating the angle. Luna also warned city leaders and the commmunity that the truth about the shooter’s motive was still unknown and that there could be misinformation being spread, Ding said.
Eric Sham, 23, who works as a delivery driver and lives in Alhambra, stood for portions of the vigil holding a large sign in front of him that read “protect our elders” and had a sticker with “I love our San Gabriel Valley community” on his tie-dyed sweatshirt.
Sham scrolled through Instagram stories of the tragedy restlessly on his iPhone, at times loudly speaking “amen” during the prayer portion of the service, which included pastors praying with the community in Mandarin, Cantonese, Taiwanese and Spanish, as well as English.