They were celebrating the “Year of the Rabbit,” but their Chinese New Year suddenly turned horrific: After the deaths of 10 people in a massacre in Monterey Park on Sunday, residents of the Asian suburb of Los Angeles were stunned by the violence tearing their haven of peace apart .
In the city of 60,000, red lanterns and banners full of ideograms still hang over the road on New Year’s Eve. But around the dance hall where the tragedy took place, the yellow police cordons and heavily armed police now spoil the party.
“That doesn’t happen here,” breathes Wynn Liaw, a neighbor who came to this space popular with the area’s seniors to find out what happened.
At the age of 57, 40 of which have spent in the city, this retired Chinese veterinarian still finds it hard to believe that a massacre took place right there, behind the white and green awning that she passes in front of every day to celebrate her to compete in races.
“It’s a very safe area to walk around at night and not have to worry about gun violence at all,” she told AFP as police helicopters circled the sky.
On Saturday night, an Asian suspect entered the ballroom to shoot dead five men and five women, injuring at least ten, authorities said. He was found dead after allegedly committing suicide in a white van following a chase with police, the local sheriff said on Sunday.
This killing, the deadliest in the United States since the Uvalde massacre that killed 19 children and two teachers at a Texas school in May 2022, took the city completely by surprise.
Around ten kilometers from downtown Los Angeles, Monterey Park is considered by its residents to be the “new Chinatown” of the Californian metropolis.
In the midst of pavilions with clean lawns, we read the newspaper in Mandarin, the anti-Covid-19 mask carefully screwed on our noses, the shop signs are in Chinese, and the vast majority of residents crossed by AFP do not speak Chinese »English.
“It’s a place where not much usually happens,” says Ken Nim, walking his dog.
In the 20 years he has lived here, this IT worker once had his car’s catalytic converter stolen. And that’s it.
The local laundromat’s slot machine, featuring the fighting game Streetfighter II, seemed to be the most brutal experience locals have been promised yet.
“It’s really sad, this country is going crazy,” Mr Nim continues incredulously. “We’ve seen mass killings in so many different cities and states, and now it’s happening to us.”
Amidst the closed streets, residents try to make sense of this wave of violence. Photos are circulating on the phones showing bodies lying on the ground in a room lit by multicolored spotlights.
Many of them initially feared a racist crime. But the suspect’s Asian origins, revealed by the sheriff in the morning, caused confusion and all are now reduced to speculation.
“I feel like this is a personal story,” says Jerry Liu, a 26-year-old truck driver, near the hundreds of white tents lined up for the market celebrating the Lunar New Year.
During the day on Saturday, thousands of people crowded the main artery between the meat skewer stands and the carnival.
“There’s a reason he targeted the dance hall. Otherwise he could have gone to the market earlier in the day and caused many more deaths,” the young man insists.
Outside the police line, Chester Chong tells him a possible story of jealousy from a man who would not have been invited to the evening his wife attended.
“The problem is that we have so many guns in this country,” sighs the president of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles, who claims to know the owner of the dance hall. “It’s so easy to pick up a gun and do something stupid.”