Stand-off in hunt for suspect in ‘heinous’ dance studio massacre

Police in tactical vehicles and bomb-squad trucks have surrounded a white van in a car park believed to be driven by the suspect in one of California’s deadliest shootings.

It came hours after a man fatally shot 10 people and injured at least 10 others at a ballroom dance venue during a Chinese Lunar New Year celebration near Los Angeles before fleeing the scene.

The shooter, who remained at large nearly 11 hours after the attack in the city of Monterey Park, was believed to be an Asian man between 30 and 50 years old based on descriptions from eyewitnesses, law enforcement officials said.

“We need to get this person off the street as soon as possible,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said at a Sunday news conference in Monterey Park, home to one of the largest Asian American communities in the US.

Mr Luna later released images of the suspect apparently taken from surveillance camera footage showing him wearing spectacles, dressed in a dark jacket and a dark beanie hat with white stripes.

The sheriff’s department said it was releasing the images in an attempt to identify the suspect and that he should be considered “armed and dangerous”.

By noon (local time), police in tactical vehicles and bomb-squad trucks had surrounded the white van about 30 kilometres away in Torrance. Hours earlier, Mr Luna said authorities were looking for a white van after witnesses reported seeing the suspect flee from Alhambra in such a vehicle.

“We believe there is a person inside of that vehicle. We don’t know their condition, but we’re going to handle that in safest manner that we possibly can and try to identify that person. Could it be our suspect? Possibly,” Mr Luna said.

Television images later showed a body slumped over the steering wheel of the van.

Earlier, the sheriff’s department said it did not know whether the attack was racially motivated.

Half the victims were male and half female, Mr Luna said. Their identities have not been made public.

Congresswoman Judy Chu, who represents Monterey Park, said it could have been so much worse.

“Only hours earlier, all of us were together only one block away at the Lunar New Year festival,” she said.

“All of us standing right here were there, and there were thousands there.”

Officials were investigating whether an incident at another dance club in the neighbouring city of Alhambra about 20 minutes later on Saturday night was connected with the massacre in Monterey Park.

At the second club, witnesses said an Asian man walked in holding a gun that patrons were able to grab. No one was shot and the man fled, Mr Luna said.

When police arrived at the Monterey Park club, people were “pouring out of the location screaming”, department captain Andrew Meyer said.

The shootings happened during a Luna New Year celebration. Photo: AAP

At least 10 people were taken to local hospitals to be treated for injuries and at least one was in critical condition. Police have not said what kind of gun was used in the attack.

The shooting took place after 10pm local time near where a two-day Chinese Lunar New Year celebration had closed many streets for festivities that draw thousands of people from across southern California.

Police said the celebrations planned for Sunday were cancelled.

Monterey Park is a city of about 60,000 people about 11 kilometres from downtown Los Angeles. About two-thirds of its residents are Asian, according to US Census data, and the city is known for its many Chinese restaurants and groceries.

Video taken by local news media showed injured people, many of them appearing to be middle aged, being loaded into ambulances on stretchers.

Seung Won Choi, who owns a seafood barbecue restaurant near the site of the attack, told the Los Angeles Times that three people rushed into his restaurant and told him to lock the door because a man was unloading multiple rounds of ammunition at the dance club across the street.

The White House said President Joe Biden had been briefed on the attack and had directed the FBI to assist local police. In a tweet, Mr Biden said he was monitoring the situation closely.

Mass shootings are recurrent in the US. The attack in Monterey Park was the deadliest since May 2022, when a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers at a school in Uvalde, Texas.

The deadliest shooting in California history was in 1984 when a gunman killed 21 people at a McDonald’s in San Ysidro, near San Diego.

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