Hero Who Disarmed Monterey Park Mass Shooter Details Life-or-Death Struggle

Brandon Tsay, whose family owns Lai Lai Ballroom and Studio in Alhambra, wrestled the assault weapon from 72-year-old Huu Can Tran

The man who disarmed the gunman who had just shot and killed at least 11 people Saturday night in Monterey Park and injured several others was hit in the face and bashed on the head several times in a life-or-death struggle to wrestle the weapon away from the assailant. 

“My first thought was I was going to die here, this is it,” Brandon Tsay told Good Morning America on Monday.

Tsay’s family runs the Lai Lai Ballroom and Studio in Alhambra. which was hosting a Lunar New Year celebration on Saturday night. Toward the end of the event, the 26-year-old says he heard the unexpected sound of the studio’s door opening. He then saw a man with a gun walk inside, who has now been identified by law enforcement as 72-year-old Huu Can Tran. He arrived at the Lai Lai Ballroom about 20 minutes after he’d fatally shot 11 people during a rampage at Star Dance Studio in nearby Monterey Park.

Tsay told GMA that he saw that the gunman was “looking around the room” as if he was “looking for targets.”

“My first thought was I was going to die here, this is it,” Tsay said. “He started prepping the weapon and something came over me. I realized I needed to get the weapon away from him. I needed to take this weapon, disarm him or else everybody would have died.

“When I got the courage, I lunged at him with both my hands, grabbed the weapon and we had a struggle. We struggled into the lobby, trying to get this gun away from each other. He was hitting me across the face, bashing the back of my head,” Tsay revealed. 

In what became a life-or-death struggle, Tsay used his elbows to try to dislodge the gun from the man’s hands, he said, and soon he managed to grab the weapon and point it at the assailant. He yelled, “get the hell out of here,” and had threatened to shoot, he said.

“I thought he would run away, but he was just standing there contemplating whether to fight or to run,” Tsay told ABC News. “I really thought I would have to shoot him and he came at me. This is when he turned around and walked out the door, jogged back to his van. I immediately called police with the gun still in my hand.”

On Sunday, Torrance police located a white van matching the suspect vehicle near Sepulveda and Hawthorne boulevards and attempted a traffic stop, at which point the van entered a strip mall parking lot near Del Amo Fashion Center. When officers approached, they heard a single gunshot fired from within the vehicle. Tran was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

No criminal record can be located for Tran. Investigators with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department searched his home in the city of Hemet as part of their investigation.

On Monday, the death toll from Saturday’s shooting rose to 11. Officials at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center said that one of the victims being treated there died from “extensive injuries.”

Huu Can Tran

Speaking with The New York Times, Luna described the weapon Tran used as a “magazine-fed semi-automatic assault pistol” that was likely not legal to own in California. The license plates on the van that Tran was driving were not legal and were probably stolen, he added. 

Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department detectives continue to attempt to nail down a motive that led to the septuagenarian’s killing spree. However, on Sunday, law enforcement sources told LAMag that it was likely an act of domestic violence and that the gunman was “looking for his wife,” at the two dance halls in San Gabriel Valley, which is home to a sprawling Chinese-American community.

If Tran was married, and whether he knew any of the people who he killed or injured in his rampage, is unclear; the names of victims are being released by authorities on Monday. According to court records obtained by LAMag, the gunman divorced a woman in 2005. He also had a company, Tran’s Trucking registered in his name, court records show, starting in Sept. 2002 until it went inactive on Aug. 20, 2004.

On Monday, CNN spoke with Tran’s ex-wife, who said that he had once been a regular patron at the venue. The woman, who asked the network that she not be named, said that she’d met Tran about 20 years ago at Star Ballroom, where he gave informal lessons. After they met at a dance he had offered her free lessons, she said, and the two married soon after. While he had never been violent, she told CNN that Tran could be quick to anger.

On Monday, police in the city of Hemet, where Tran was living, said in a statement that he had recently turned up at a station, claiming that members of his family were attempting to poison him. In the statement, authorities in the Riverside County city said that he’d “visited the Hemet Police Department lobby on January 7 and 9, 2023, alleging past fraud, theft, and poisoning allegations involving his family in the Los Angeles area 10 to 20 years ago. Tran stated he would return to the station with documentation regarding his allegations but never returned.”

The bloodshed began Saturday night at 10:20 p.m. when the gunman burst into Star Dance Studio and opened fire with an automatic pistol, killing 11 attendees at the Luna New Year event and wounding several others. The victims were “not in their twenties or thirties,” Sheriff Robert Luna told reporters Sunday evening at a press conference outside Monterey Park City Hall.

About 20 minutes later, Tran made his attempt to attack the Lai Lai Ballroom and Studio. 

Luna told reporters on Sunday that the victims included five women and five men; the gender of the 11th victim, who died Monday from their injuries, is still unclear. Initially, investigators said that they believed the killings could be a hate crime. But Chester Chong, the chairman of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles and a community leader in Monterey Park, also claimed that the shooting stemmed from a domestic dispute.

“This hate is because of wife and husband,” Chong told ABC7 News, adding that the suspect may have been jealous because he was not invited to the celebration that his spouse attended. “I believe because of that there was the killing of innocent people.”

A community candlelight vigil will be held at Monterey Park City Hall Monday evening to honor the victims of the mass shooting at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio that left 11 people dead and nine others wounded. The gathering, organized by community residents, will be held at 7 p.m. Attendees are encouraged to bring candles or flowers. A memorial of flowers and other mementos has been growing outside Monterey Park City Hall, 320 W. Newmark Ave., since Sunday.

City News Service contributed to this report 

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