Vice President Kamala Harris visits growing memorial for Monterey Park shooting victims

Vice President Kamala Harris visits growing memorial for Monterey Park shooting victims

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On Wednesday, Vice President Kamala Harris joined in what has become a nightly ritual in Monterey Park, as hundreds gathered in front of the dance studio where 11 people were gunned down amid Lunar New Year revelry Saturday night.

Weaving through a crowd that included dozens of reporters, people carried lighted candles and stopped in front of 11 flower memorials, seven of them adorned with photos of the victims. They chalked Chinese characters reading “tiao duo yi zhi wu, or “one more dance,” and other messages outside Star Ballroom Dance Studio.

They left notes.

“Dear Andy, thanks for your love for dancing,” read one letter in front of a memorial for Yu-Lun Kao, 72.

Harris placed a bouquet of yellow lilies, white roses and palm fronds among the other memorials. She looked at the photos of the victims, pausing in front of each one.

She offered her condolences on behalf of President Biden, First Lady Jill Biden and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff.

“I have had the unfortunate experience of visiting many of these sites,” Harris said, noting that more than 40 mass killings have already taken place in the U.S. this year.

Vice President Kamala Harris carries a wreath while walking in front of portraits of shooting victims

“I have had the unfortunate experience of visiting many of these sites,” Harris said during her visit to the Monterey Park dance studio where 11 were killed in a mass shooting.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

The vice president urged Congress to act on passing “reasonable gun safety laws.”

“Can they do something? Yes,” Harris said when asked whether the current Congress, now split after Republicans narrowly took control of the House this month, has the capacity to act on gun violence. “Should they do something? Yes. Will they do something? That is where we all must speak up and speak to our elected representatives about what we have a right to expect that they will do in the interest of the safety and the security and the well-being of people like those whose lives were ended here.”

Harris left the studio to meet with the families of six of the victims for more than two hours.

Meanwhile, hundreds continued to congregate in front of the dance studio and its parking lot.

Corrine Martin, 69, said that she did not know anyone affected by the shooting but that the attack had reminded her of her daughter, who died a year ago.

She said she hoped the tragedy would bring an outpouring of support for the community of Monterey Park.

“I am pretty sure people will recognize Monterey Park,” she said. “People will come to enjoy the food. Maybe people will come to the studio to dance.”

Robert, an Arcadia resident who declined to provide his last name, came to the vigil to pay his respects and remember his “best friend,” Wen-Tau Yu, 64, who died in the shooting.

Though they knew each other for only a year, Yu became “our group leader,” Robert said.

Yu was talkative, Robert said, and their dinner conversation was filled with any and all subjects: dancing, jobs, families, ladies.

Robert said he watched a video from inside the ballroom minutes before the shooting. Yu was near the side door. Two women next to him escaped through that door, but Yu didn’t.

“I think he tried to save lives,” Robert said.

A pastor led the crowd in a meditation session. A monk recited a Buddhist prayer. Jason Chu performed a song.

“We can show up for one another. We can show up with open hearts,” Chu said, his voice rising. “If we have to start with the reality of the tragedy around us, let’s start the year with the reality of community and of care and of humanity around us.”

But to longtime visitors of the dance studio, that community was missing the bright star around whom it had long orbited.

“Mr. Ma was always sitting there, smiling for us,” Marlene Yu said as she motioned past an overflowing pile of flowers toward the studio’s locked front gate.

Ming Wei Ma, 72, ran the studio and was beloved by his students.

During her seven years of lessons at the studio, that door would usually be open, Yu said. Ma kept a chair just inside the gate for his one-man welcoming committee.

Cindy Mathews, another student of Ma’s who wore her dance clothes Wednesday night, also recalled his constant presence outside the studio, smoking just inside the gate or standing at the corner and always joking around.

Kevin Leung, who spoke at Wednesday’s vigil holding a long candle, said Ma had given his kung fu class a home for eight years.

Many venues said no, but “Mr. Ma” gave Leung the space to teach, he told the crowd.

“They really took us in to be part of the family,” he said.

Cindy Wu said she first met Ma six or seven years ago when she was looking for an ethnic performance group for a community event.

“When you see the happiness of everybody dancing,” she told the crowd, “it really shows the incredible happiness he bought to the community.”

Former student Yu, standing by the studio’s front gate, said, “His voice, his sharing, caring, loving — it’s all gone.” She brought her hand to her face as she began to weep.

Yu frequently took Latin dance classes with Mymy Nhan, 65, who was killed in the massacre. Nhan was quiet but always smiling, and she would often bring fruit or cookies to share with her fellow students after class.

“I can’t believe it,” Yu said as she recalled those recent evenings.

Another of the shooting victims, Xiujuan Yu, had never been to the studio before Saturday night, but she accepted an invitation from two friends to celebrate the Lunar New Year there.

Yu, 57, emigrated from Guangdong province in China in the 2010s to start a new life with her family in the United States. She and her husband settled in Temple City but spent a lot of time in nearby Monterey Park.

Flowers surround a large portrait of a smiling woman mounted against a brick wall

Xiujuan Yu’s portrait is part of a street memorial to victims of Saturday’s mass shooting in Monterey Park.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

“A lot of immigrants from China go to this area because there’s a central hub and there’s already a community built here,” Yu’s niece, Kathleen Fong, 22, told The Times in an interview. “There’s a strong sense of togetherness here.”

Monterey Park, known as America’s first suburban Chinatown, became a “safe haven,” for the family, Fong said.

That all changed Saturday night.

Yu attended the dance hall’s Lunar New Year event with two of her friends and had arrived shortly before the shooting began, according to Fong. One of Yu’s friends went to the bathroom. When she returned, the friend found that Yu and Lilan Li, 63, had been shot. Yu was lying on the floor and Li was slumped in a chair.

Fong said Yu’s husband read about the shooting online and started frantically calling Yu, but she didn’t pick up. He contacted Fong’s parents to ask for their help to find her. The three of them drove to different hospitals looking for Yu. Eventually, they ended up at the Langley Center, which was converted by the city into a crisis response center, seeking information about their loved one.

The family found out Monday that Yu had died at the studio and never made it to the hospital.

“I don’t know if she even spent an hour there, maybe less than an hour,” Fong said. “It really is a feeling of wrong place, wrong time. It still doesn’t feel real at times.”

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