A beloved manager of a California dance hall was among the 10 victims of Saturday’s gun massacre during a lunar new year celebration in Monterey Park, according to friends and colleagues.
Ming Wei Ma, known to instructors as “Mr Ma”, died when a 72-year-old gunman entered the Star Ballroom and opened fire. A friend told the Daily Beast US digital news outlet that Ma “was the first to rush to try to stop the shooter”.
The Los Angeles county coroner’s office – whose jurisdiction includes Monterey Park – had not yet confirmed Ma among the dead on Monday morning, when the agency named two women, My Nhan, 65, and Lilan Li, 63, as the only victims to be publicly identified so far.
But the report of Ma’s death was corroborated by Dariusz Michalski, a professional ballroom dancing instructor at the Star Ballroom, who posted to Facebook a photograph of the two together with a heartfelt tribute to a man he called his “friend”.
“Mr Ma, your love, joy for people will never be forgotten,” he wrote.
“Your dance and signing passion will never disappear. We will never forget your shout in the studio: ‘I love you.’ You will be greatly missed. I love you my friend.”
Relatives of My Nhan said on social media that they were “broken” by her death.
“It’s still sinking in what happened to Mymy,” the family said in a statement posted to Twitter by Dallas-based WFAA reporter Tiffany Liou, who said the tragedy had struck “close to home” and that her husband’s family was “hurting beyond measure”. Liou said Nhan was the first of the victims shot and killed.
The statement continued: “She spent so many years going to the studio in Monterey Park on weekends. It’s what she loved to do. But unfairly, Saturday was her last dance.
“If you knew her, you knew her warm smile and kindness was contagious. She was a loving aunt, sister, daughter and friend. Mymy was our biggest cheerleader.”
The statement, signed by “the Nhan and Quan family”, concludes with an expression of gratitude for people’s thoughts and prayers, and the support of neighbors and community.
Officials have yet to publicly identify the eight other victims pending notification to their relatives, the coroner’s office said, while advising they were two women in their 60s, one woman in her 50s, two men in their 60s, and three men in their 70s.
The 72-year-old gunman, an Asian man named as Huu Can Tran, was found dead in a van in Torrance, California, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound hours after he was disarmed by a worker at a second dance hall in Alhambra, close to Monterey Park.
Authorities have yet to reveal a motive for the killings, the deadliest mass shooting in the US since 19 children and two teachers were murdered at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, on 24 May last year.
But the mayor of Monterey Park, majority Asian American community once described as the first suburban Chinatown, speculated on Monday that it was possibly a domestic dispute involving the shooter, whom he said was “a frequent attendee of the dance hall”.
The mayor, Henry Lo, told CNN: “My understanding is that he had met his ex-wife at the location many years ago, but we don’t know why he did what he did. Was it an issue of [being] disgruntled, or the issue of domestic violence? We don’t know, unfortunately.”
Others who attended lessons at the Star Ballroom painted a picture of a friendly, community-based facility that acted as a de facto social club for locals and dance enthusiasts. The shooting took place during what should have been a “joyous” event celebrating lunar new year, according to Elizabeth Yang, a Monterey Park lawyer who took classes there.
“The whole city of Monterey Park went from celebrating to everyone being fearful and scared,” Yang told the South California Press-Enterprise. “We are devastated.”
Yang said the “elegant” dance hall’s owners and instructors engaged well with students, who kept in touch with each other outside classes through online messaging applications and social gatherings such as Saturday’s celebration.
The Monterey Park killings occurred during what was at least the 36th mass shooting in the US so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The archive classifies shooting in which at least four people are wounded or killed – not counting any attackers – as mass shootings.
Ramon Antonio Vargas contributed reporting
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