New Monterey Park Police Chief Describes Baptism by Fire in Mass Shooting

Scott Wiese, the just-sworn-in top cop in the San Gabriel Valley city, tells LAMag how he and his rookies cops responded to the Lunar New Year mass shooting

The Lunar New Year in Monterey Park, the city known by the residents of the San Gabriel Valley enclave as the Asian Beverly Hills, is a sacred time. To usher in the Year of the Rabbit, thousands of revelers gathered Saturday for what was slated to be a days-long festival, the first public celebration since the Covid-19 lockdowns, along West Garvey Avenue, close by to the Star Ballroom Dance Studio where tragedy struck that night.

Scott Wiese, Monterey Park’s Police Chief, has been on the force for decades, but he was officially sworn in as the city’s top cop just three days earlier. He had planned for the large crowds that were expected this year, and given the uptick in reported hate crimes against Asians in L.A., he had assigned SWAT teams at the ready, undercover cops to mingle in the crowd, and uniformed patrols to act as the city’s eyes and ears. None of that was enough to prevent the mass shooting on Saturday night that left 11 dead and many others injured.

Wiese is a father of four in his 60s who, along with his wife, an L.A. County judge, have two grandchildren. He started his 40-year law enforcement career as a Newport Beach Police Explorer in his youth and joined the small-town Monterey Park Department in 1992. Crime in the city is rare—mostly car theft and a smattering of break-ins. But now, his department, Wiese said, has been thrust into “a sad fraternity that nobody wants to be a part of.” The site of a deadly mass shooting.

The chief has spent the first week of his appointment in a whirlwind of chaos, fielding questions about an inexplicable massacre alongside the biggest political and law enforcement leaders in L.A. County, while assuaging the frayed nerves of a community that already feels like a target of hate.

“It was a great day. Our community was having fun,” Wiese told LAMag on the steps of the Hall of Justice after a recent press briefing. By 10 p.m. on Saturday, Wiese recalled, the crowds were gone and his tactical teams had been relieved. Three patrol cops remained on duty in the area, a trio of rookies—all women, all in their 20s—who had become friends while attending police academy training together. There were still stragglers on West Garvey Avenue; dancers were gathering at the Star Ballroom.

Then at 10:22 p.m. came the call: “Shots fired!”

Less than three minutes later, those rookies on the job for less than a year arrived at 122 West Garvey Ave. to find panicked throngs screeching, “There’s a shooter inside!,” Wiese said, “There’s a shooter!”

The rookies did not pause. They sprinted across an entryway stringed with colorful bistro lights toward the doors the panicked, bleeding revelers fled from and pushed their way inside the active shooter scene. “Some of the people were wounded, some were dragging injured people to safety, but my officers didn’t hesitate. They were determined to stop the shooting, find the suspect,” Wiese said.

“No one could have been prepared for the scene that they came across,” he added. “The extreme carnage.”

Shell casings littered the floor. There were deafening cries of despair and pain. And the dead. There were 10 people dead on the dance floor—five men and five women. Another victim died later at an area hospital. “Every couple of feet…,” Wiese sucked in a breath and continued, “a dead couple or…a body alone.”

Before the rookies could aid the victims, they swiftly swept the premises for the shooter. With guns drawn, the women strategically moved through a maze of offices that surrounded the dance floor, searched large cabinets, and double-checked nooks where a crazed gunman could hide.

But by then, 72-year-old Huu Can Tran was gone, headed to a second Lunar New Year celebration in the neighboring city of Alhambra behind the wheel of a white cargo van with stolen plates, still carrying his weapon of mass murder: a 9mm MAC-10 loaded “with an extended large capacity magazine,” Luna told reporters at Monday’s press conference. A 9mm MAC-10 is considered an assault weapon, which is banned in California.

A law enforcement source told LAMag the bloodbath was the result of something personal, and appeared to have been well-planned. Tran, the source said, was “looking for his wife.” Whether that was his ex-wife or a current relationship remains unclear, but Luna confirmed that domestic violence was being investigated as a possible motive for the unimaginable massacre. Tran, who had relocated to the desert community of Hemet, where investigators executed a search warrant Sunday to find stockpiled ammunition and a .308-caliber rifle, had no recent criminal record, Luna said. His last arrest was in 1990 on suspicion of unlawful possession of a firearm.

Roughly 20 minutes after the attack in Monterey Park, Tran tried to enter the Lai Lai Ballroom and Studio in Alhambra with the same weapon, but was confronted by 26-year-old Brandon Tsay, an employee of the family-owned business; he told ABC News he struggled with the shooter and got control of the weapon. Luna said it was two “brave individuals” who wrestled the gun away.

“When I got the courage, I lunged at him with both my hands, grabbed the weapon and we had a struggle,” Tsay told Good Morning America. “We struggled into the lobby, trying to get this gun away from each other.”

Tsay won the battle and Tran fled in the same white cargo van, launching a 12-hour manhunt.

By then Wiese had arrived on the Monterey Park scene. Firefighters had already begun to triage the wounded, and LASD crime scene investigators were marking the 42 shell casings strewn across the blood-splattered floor and collecting security video. En route he had called Luna, who was also recently sworn in to head the Sheriff’s Department. The men had been friends for years, and the LASD homicide division would be the lead agency on the investigation.

“He told me he had 16,000 employees and they all work for you now,” Wiese recalled. “I love my job. I love being a cop. Monterey Park is a family.”

That spirit of cooperation, and the brave actions of the rookie officers, along with the dozens of other cops who quickly responded to Tran’s rampage, stand in direct contrast to the startling inaction of hundreds of police officers who descended on the scene of a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas on May 24, 2022, but did nothing as an 18-year-old shooter killed 19 elementary school children and two teachers. A Texas House Committee report pointed to “systemic failures and egregiously poor decision-making,” which led to some of the children, who may have survived with emergency care, slowly dying with police officers right outside.

In the South Bay, about an hour away from the massacre, the Torrance Police Department also jumped into action in the aftermath of the violence. At 8:35 a.m. on Sunday, Luna released a photo of the man now known as Tran. A BOLO—Be On The Lookout—for the white van described by witnesses fleeing La Lai was also issued.

A Torrance PD sergeant, while training a new recruit, spotted a white van matching the BOLO description that “seemed off” near Hawthorne and Sepulveda Boulevards, said Wiese. They attempted to pull it over, and Tran briefly took off before pulling into a strip mall.

As the cops approached “a shot was fired,” Luna said. The officers called for backup. Within minutes, the van was surrounded by armored trucks, marked cruisers, and a bomb squad unit. Under the roar of helicopters overhead, a SWAT team advanced toward the van to find Tran dead, Luna said, by a single round to the head fired from a Norinco 7.62 x 25mm handgun.

With that self-inflicted gunshot, the threat had been extinguished. But the fear that hangs over the predominantly Asian community remains palpable, along with the trauma left behind by the horrifying death toll the youngest cops in his department witnessed, Wiese said.

“I care about my department, and I care about my city,” he said. “Yes, the person is dead. But in my community, they are worried about the next one.”

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