The investigation into the Monterey Park mass shooting is focused on the gunman’s previous interactions at two dance studios he targeted and whether jealousy over a relationship was the motive, according to law enforcement sources.
The sources stressed that the investigation was in its early stages. But detectives believe that 72-year-old Huu Can Tran frequented the clubs — the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park and the Lai Lai Ballroom and Studio in Alhambra — and that the shooting might have been sparked by a personal dispute.
"We're hearing those things too but have not confirmed any of that information," Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said Monday at a news conference. "It's part of what our investigators are diligently looking into."
Law enforcement sources also believe Tran was having unspecified emotional problems that had been getting worse in the weeks before the shooting.
He showed up at the Hemet Police Department lobby twice this month, on Jan. 7 and 9, making allegations of fraud and theft and saying that his family had tried to poison him in the L.A. area 10 to 20 years ago, Hemet police spokesperson Alan Reyes said.
Tran said he would come back with evidence but never returned, Reyes said.
It will likely take weeks to unravel what happened. Detectives began serving search warrants at multiple locations Sunday.
Inside Tran's home in Hemet, investigators found a .308-caliber rifle, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, electronic devices, including cellphones and computers, and items that led officials to suspect he was manufacturing firearm suppressors, Luna said Monday.
Authorities also seized a Norinco handgun that was registered to Tran from the van where his body was found Sunday, Luna said.
A 9-millimeter semi-automatic MAC-10 assault weapon was also wrested from Tran at an Alhambra dance studio Saturday night.
"I want to emphasize that all the firearms recovered still require additional forensic ballistic examinations and comparisons that we're doing with our partners, as well as additional investigations into the origins of where the suspect got those weapons," Luna said, adding there's "a lot of work to be done there, but we don't want to leave any stone unturned."
Tran had been living at the Lakes at Hemet West, a mobile home park whose sign billed it as “a 55+ active living community,” according to public record and law enforcement sources. A security guard turned away a Times reporter at the front gate Sunday night.
“I still have questions in my mind, which are, what was the motive for this shooter?” U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) said Sunday night during a news conference. "Did he have a mental illness? Was he a domestic violence abuser? How did he get these guns, and was it through legal means? Well, those questions will have to be answered in the future.”
Chester Chong, chair of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles, described the Star Ballroom Dance Studio as an institution in the community.
Chong said conversations among community members in a massive WeChat group after the shooting had led him to believe the shooter’s motive was personal. He said the gunman was looking for a woman who had been invited to an event at the ballroom without him, which made him upset.
He said it’s not uncommon for that to happen.
“The men maybe hate that the wife goes down there and goes dancing with other men,” he said, adding that “a lot of lonely people go down there to date ... other people.”
The WeChat group includes people who were inside the ballroom and saw the violence, he said, but they did not know the gunman.
Grace, a Monterey Park resident who declined to give her last name, said she learned through her WeChat group that Tran had been jealous that a woman he knew had gone out dancing without him Saturday night. He apparently hadn't been invited, she said.
“So many people went to the facility every day," she said of the shooting. "It is sad and extremely cruel."