LOS ANGELES — A gunman fired his first fatal shots outside a dance hall after Monterey Park police received a call for help from a man who was trying to figure out who was in the car with him. What happened to the partner?
“Is your girlfriend awake?” the dispatcher asked.
“I’m not sure,” said the caller.
Audio from the 911 recordings released Thursday gives a sense of the confusion and chaos that unfolded at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio on Jan. 21, a night full of Lunar New Year celebrations.
Ho Can Tran, 72, a onetime fixture at the ballroom who told people he was a dance instructor, killed 11 people and wounded nine with a submachine gun-style semi-automatic handgun, police said. Of the six women and five men killed, one woman was in her 50s and the rest were in their 60s and 70s.
Tran fled the shooting in a white van and about 20 minutes later entered a dance hall in nearby Alhambra, where a quick-thinking employee limped for a weapon and disarmed him after a brief struggle. Tran killed himself the next morning when police surrounded his van.
In just three minutes, Monterey Park police dispatchers made three 911 calls. It came from a man who fled the club after seeing a gunman open fire near the entrance to the dance hall. He initially mistook the gunshots for firecrackers.
The man, who said he saw the gunman reloading the weapon as people ran for safety, urged a dispatcher to “send the police over here right away.”
“He might start shooting again,” the man said nervously.
The dispatcher asked several times if anyone was hurt. The man said he did not know.
“It happened so fast,” he said. “Everybody ran away.”
The caller from the car said he and his girlfriend left the party early and someone tried to break the car window as they were leaving. He then said that a shot had been fired through the window and that his girlfriend was unconscious.
He did not identify the woman, but 65-year-old Mimi Nan was identified as the only person shot in the parking lot.
The fire dispatcher pressed for details, asking if the injured woman could speak.
“My, can you talk to me?” the caller pleaded. “No, she can’t talk.”
The dispatcher then asked if she was breathing.
“Oh, no,” said the man. “Maybe he’ll die. I’m not sure.”
Then he said that he was bleeding from the head. The dispatcher assured her that the police and paramedics were on their way.
Five minutes into the call, a police dispatcher, who was on the line after connecting the caller to the fire department, asked what kind of vehicle the man was in and told him to flag officers down for help.
“Come here, please. Help!” The man could be heard screaming. “Over here! Over here! Over here!”
The police dispatcher then informed his colleague at the fire department that “there are multiple people inside with gunshot wounds.”
“Inside the same car?” asked the fire dispatcher.
The police dispatcher clarified that he meant the business, the dance hall.
After that exchange, about seven minutes into the call, the man could still be heard calling for help.
The police dispatcher told him to keep moving. Finally, he said, “They’re here. They’re here.”
Nahan, an immigrant from Vietnam who was a club regular and loved to dance, was one of the first victims to be named after the massacre.
His niece, Fonda Kwan, told The Associated Press that three weeks ago he lost his mother, whom he had cared for. She had gone to the club to celebrate with friends and was ready to “start the year fresh”.
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