US police hunt gunman who killed 10 in Lunar New Year shooting

Police were involved in a stand-off Sunday with a man they believe killed 10 people in a mass shooting at a dance club during Lunar New Year celebrations in California.

At least 10 other people were wounded in the shooting with the gunman -- described by police as Asian -- firing indiscriminately at the club in Monterey Park, near Los Angeles, witnesses said.

"We are utilizing every resource to apprehend this suspect in what we believe to be one of the county's most heinous cases," Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said.

Luna said police responded to emergency calls just after 10pm Saturday (0600 GMT Sunday) and found people pouring out of the premises.

"Unfortunately," he added, paramedics "did pronounce 10 of the victims deceased at the scene."

Five of the dead were women and five men, officials said, without providing ages or names.

At least 10 people were wounded, Luna said, some of them critically.

The sheriff said he did not believe the shooter used an assault rifle, but he did not elaborate.

- Incident nearby -

Luna also described a second incident in nearby Alhambra some 20 minutes later, in which an Asian man carrying a gun walked into a dance studio but was tackled and disarmed. The man fled and no injuries were reported.

Alhambra is about two miles north of Monterey Park. Luna said investigators were probing whether the incidents were related.

By late Sunday morning police were involved in a stand-off, surrounding a vehicle in Torrance, south of Los Angeles.

Aerial footage showed a white transit van hemmed in by armored police vehicles, while a large number of police cars stood nearby.

The development came as Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department released photographs of the man they are looking for.

Images, apparently from surveillance cameras, show an Asian man wearing a beanie hat and glasses.

- 'Year of the rabbit' -

Monterey Park, only a few miles from downtown Los Angeles, is home to around 60,000 people, the majority of them Asian or Asian American.

"We don't know if this is specifically a hate crime defined by law," Luna said, "but who walks into a dance hall and guns down 20 people?"

Although the gunman remained at large, the sheriff said it was safe for people to attend area Lunar New Year events.

Sheriff's deputies in Monterey Park remained at the scene, an AFP reporter said, with decorations erected for the Lunar New Year hanging incongruously by the police tape.

A banner above the street read "Happy Year of the Rabbit."

"It's a really sad thing," Ken Nim, a data-center worker out walking his dog, told AFP. "Usually you don't see much happening here."

US President Joe Biden tweeted that he and his wife Jill were "praying for those killed and injured in last night’s deadly mass shooting in Monterey Park," adding, "I’m monitoring this situation closely."

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sent his condolences, tweeting, "My heart breaks for the people of Monterey Park."

The shooting was the deadliest in the US since a shooter in Uvalde, Texas killed 22 people at an elementary school last May 24.

Monterey Park resident Wong Wei told the Los Angeles Times his friend had been in the dance club's bathroom when the shooting erupted.

When she emerged, she saw a man carrying a long gun and firing indiscriminately. The bodies of two women and a man lay on the floor.

The paper reported that Seung Won Choi, who owns a nearby restaurant, said three people had run into the establishment and told him to lock the door.

The three told Choi there was a man with a semiautomatic gun who had multiple rounds of ammunition and repeatedly reloaded.

Tens of thousands of people had gathered earlier for the two-day Lunar New Year festival, one of the area's largest. Events planned for Sunday were canceled after the attack.

"My heart is broken for the victims, their families, and the people of my hometown," Representative Judy Chu, a former mayor of Monterey Park, said on Twitter.

Chu had been at the scene, joining the festivities hours before the shooting, when the crowd was still large. "This could have been so much worse," she said.

- Hate crime? -

Officials said detectives were reviewing surveillance video and did not yet know whether the suspect was targeting a particular group.

The US Department of Justice said there were over 7,000 reported hate crimes in the United States in 2021, two-thirds of them race-related.

Gun violence is a huge problem in the United States, which last year saw 647 mass shootings, with at least four people shot or killed by a shooter, according to the Gun Violence Archive website.

In addition to the California shooting, 12 more people were injured in a shooting at a nightclub overnight in Louisiana, local media reported.

More than 44,000 people died from gunshot wounds in 2022 across the United States, more than half of which were suicides.

The country has more weapons than people.

hg/des