'He's trying to reload the gun': Voices of terror from Monterey Park shooting 911 calls
The voice on the 911 tape was quiet but terrified.
The caller was the first to reach out for help after a gunman opened fire at a Lunar New Year's Eve party in Monterey Park.
Caller: "We start the car and try to leave and suddenly somebody come next to the window and shoot the window."
Dispatcher: "Is your girlfriend awake?"
Caller: "I'm not sure."
In the aftermath of the Lunar New Year's Eve mass shooting in Monterey Park that left 11 dead and nine wounded, the city clerk Thursday released the 911 and Fire Department dispatch tapes of frantic callers as Huu Can Tran was making his deadly way through Star Ballroom Dance Studio.
On Jan. 21, the Monterey Park Police Department responded to a “shots fired” call at the studio, officials said. When officers arrived, there were victims in the parking lot and patrons trying to flee.
Dozens of people were inside the dance hall for a Lunar New Year's Eve celebration when Tran, 72, walked in and opened fire around 10:20 p.m.
The next day, as officers closed in on him, Tran shot himself to death. Questions remain about the motive for the attack.
In a news conference last week, L.A. County Sheriff Robert Luna said no one has yet recalled Tran visiting the studio anytime during the last five years or having a personal link to any of the victims.
“As of today, based on interviews, they have not been able to establish a connection between the suspect and any of the victims,” Luna said.
There were around 50 or 60 people attending the party that night. Among them was Mymy Nhan, 65, who attended dance classes at the studio as often as she could.
Although the Lunar New Year party was set to go past midnight, Nhan decided to leave early to set up the family shrine to pay homage to her ancestors.
The caller in the car first dialed 911 at 10:21 p.m. to report that someone had shot something at the window as they were trying to leave the party early.
"My girlfriend unconscious right now. We just tried to leave," the man said, his voice shaky. "We tried to leave the party."
He told the 911 dispatcher that there was a hole in the window and that his girlfriend was "hit in front of her face."
The dispatcher, with the Police Department, connected him with Monterey Park fire.
“Hi, this is Monterey Park police, we’re responding to a possible shooting, and I have a male who said his girlfriend is unconscious," the 911 dispatcher said while patching the caller through. "I’m not sure what’s wrong with her."
The Fire Department dispatcher asked whether the caller's girlfriend was awake and could talk to him.
"My, can you talk to me?" the caller said to the woman in the car. "No, she cannot talk."
The dispatcher asked whether he could see blood, and at first the caller said no.
"Is she breathing?" the dispatcher asked. "Taking breaths?"
The caller was quiet and slow to respond.
"Maybe she died," he said. "I’m not sure."
The caller did not identify the woman in the car, but Nhan was the only person shot in the parking lot.
The coroner’s report later listed her place of death as the vehicle.
In another 911 call, at 10:22 p.m., Nikon Lou warned that the shooter was "reloading." Lou had raced out of the studio’s side exit. He said the shooting had started two minutes earlier.
"Is anyone hurt?" the operator asked
“I don’t know,” he said. “You better send police here right away, he might start shooting again. I’m outside the building. I don’t know if anybody got hurt or not."
Lou said the shooter had been close to the entrance and "just start shooting."
“So it was a male?” the dispatcher asked.
"Yeah, male. Just one guy," Lou said.
"Did he run away on foot or did he go in a vehicle?" the dispatcher asked.
"I don’t know. He’s trying to reload the gun," Lou said. "And people just ran.”
The dispatcher asked again for a description, and Lou responded that it had happened too far away.
"I thought he was using a firework, I mean firecrackers," Lou said. "Still a lot of people outside the building now. So you better send the police."
Two minutes later, someone from the Clam House, a seafood barbecue restaurant across the street from the dance studio, called in about a gunman.
Three people had run into the restaurant and pleaded with the restaurant owner, Seung Won Choi, to lock the door. There was a man with a gun, they said. The shooter had multiple rounds of ammunition.
The caller from the restaurant told the 911 dispatcher that they'd been told that somebody "has a gun and he's shooting."
“Where did this person go?” the dispatcher asked.
“I have no idea,” the caller said.
Tran’s next stop was Lai Lai Ballroom & Studio in Alhambra. There, Brandon Tsay, whose family owns the studio, wrested the gun from the shooter’s hands.
Twelve hours later, Tran sat in his van in a Torrance strip mall parking lot. As officers closed in on him, he shot himself to death.
The 911 calls underscore the chaos and pain of the night, as people waited for the police and Fire Department to arrive.
Dispatchers tried to reassure those waiting for help.
"There are police officers looking for you," a dispatcher told the caller in the car around 10:26 p.m.
At one point, the dispatchers communicated with one another that there are "several gunshot victims" inside the dance studio.
“Come here, I need help!” the caller in the car shouted to someone around 10:28 p.m. “Come here. Police!"
"Sir, do you see the police? Wave to them,” the dispatcher said.
“I saw the police,” the caller responded.
“Just keep waving to them, they’ll get to you," the dispatcher said.
Times staff writer Summer Lin contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.