By JAMIE STENGLE, DEEPA BHARATH and CHRISTOPHER WEBER
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Among the 11 people killed when a gunman opened fire during a Lunar New Year celebration at a Los Angeles-area dance hall popular with older Asian Americans were a family’s beloved aunt, a retired man who decided to return to school and the venue’s always-smiling manager.
For many, a passion for dance and a desire to gather with friends had drawn them to the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park on Saturday night for what was set to be a joyous celebration.
“I recognize the faces of these people who created friendships, connections and a community around their passion — dancing,” said Kristina Hayes, who has organized tango events at the dance hall. “I’m still in shock.”
Following the attack, the gunman went to another nearby ballroom but was disarmed before anyone was shot. He fled — and on Sunday shot and killed himself.
As of Wednesday, a GoFundMe organized by the Asian Americans Advancing Justice Southern California had raised over $700,000 for the families of the victims.
Here are profiles of some of the 11 people killed:
MING WEI MA
Ming Wei Ma, 72, was the manager of the Star Ballroom and a talented dancer himself. He was described by those who knew him as always smiling, helping out and making people feel welcome.
“He was a genuine, special person who was loved by all,” Walter Calderon, a dance instructor who held events there, told The Associated Press.
Calderon said that while Ma didn’t speak much English, he conveyed a lot with his facial expressions.
Siu Fong told the AP she would sometimes lead karaoke outings for older people there, where Ma would always say hello to everyone. “He would go into my session, and talk to the singers and greet them.”
Mymy Nhan, 65, was a regular at Star Ballroom. She had been the main caretaker for her mother, who recently died, and was looking forward to the dance hall’s Lunar New Year celebrations as a way to “start the year fresh,” her niece Fonda Quan said.
“It is comforting to know that she enjoyed her last dance, even though it was her last dance,” she continued.
Tiffany Liou, a reporter with WFAA television station in Dallas, wrote for the station’s website that for Nhan, her husband’s aunt, “her family was her passion.” Liou said that Nhan had no children but “loved her nieces and nephews like her own.”
“She was kind to all strangers. Her warm smile was contagious. She was everyone’s biggest cheerleader,” Liou wrote.
Nhan, who was of Chinese descent, was raised in Vietnam and immigrated to the U.S. in 1985, Liou wrote.
Valentino Alvero, 68, was remembered as a dedicated family man who loved ballroom dancing and was “the life of any party,” his family said in statement.
Alvero was “a loving father, a dedicated son and brother, a grandfather who loved his three granddaughters fiercely, an uncle who loved his nieces and nephews like his own,” his family said in a statement.
“He loved people and hearing about their lives and in return, he shared his own stories with so much enthusiasm that you couldn’t help but listen and laugh along with him,” the family said.
The statement said Alvero, a devout Catholic, loved ballroom dancing.
“We hope that he danced to his heart’s content until the very end and hope that he is now dancing in heaven,” the family said.
WEN TAU YU
Wen Tau Yu, 64, was retired, but he’d recently returned to school to study to be a pharmacist, his son said.
“He was 64 years old and retired, but he was exploring his second career,” Szu Fa Yu told The New York Times. “I really admire him for that.”
Wen Tau Yu had immigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan, where he was a manager at an agricultural company, his son said.
On Saturday, the family had gathered to celebrate the Lunar New Year before his father went out to celebrate with friends. When his father’s friends said he’d never made it to lunch the next day, the family reported to police that he was missing.
Szu Fa Yu said that if his father was a dancer, he didn’t know about it. He said the family wasn’t sure if he was killed inside the dance hall or while passing by it.
YU LUN KAO
Yu Lun Kao, 72, was a longtime member of the dance community in Monterey Park, and he was known to practice for hours.
“All day long, that’s how much he loved dancing,” Alex Satrin, an instructor who teaches at Star Ballroom, told The New York Times.
Satrin said that Kao, who also went by Andy, had participated in his group classes and also frequently practiced on his own.
Kao’s brother, Alan Kao, told the newspaper that his brother worked in the construction business after coming to California from Taiwan two decades ago.
MUOI DAI UNG
Muoi Dai Ung, 67, who came to the U.S. from Vietnam over a decade ago to be with family members who fled the country in the 1970s and 1980s, was an extrovert who loved to dance, her family said.
Her niece, Juily Phun, told the Washington Post that her aunt came to the U.S. in hopes of building a life here “different from the sorrows she had experienced.”
On Saturday, Ung, who worked multiple jobs, including as a seamstress, had gone to the Star Ballroom to celebrate the Lunar New Year with her best friend.
A statement from Ung’s family described her as “complicated, messy, easy to love and sometimes hard to understand from the outside.”
This month, Ung’s daughter was visiting her from overseas. “She came to see her mother, and now she has to bury her,” Phun said.
Diana Tom, 70, was a “hard-working mother, wife and grandmother who loved to dance,” her family said in a statement provided to The Associated Press.
Her family said that she went to the ballroom to celebrate the Lunar New Year by dancing with her friends.
“To those who knew her, she was someone who always went out of her way to give to others,” her family said.
Hongying Jian, 62, who was known as Nancy Liu, and her husband Jeff were regulars at the Star Ballroom, their daughter said.
“They know everyone,” Juno Blees told The New York Times.
The couple emigrated from China more than 25 years ago and did everything together, Blees said. They liked to socialize at the dance hall because the clientele were about their age, and many were also Asian immigrants.
A neighbor, Serena Liu, described Nancy Liu as “a very nice, cute, kind person” who liked to sing, play piano and go out dancing.
“She used to say she can make friends with anyone if she wants,” Liu told the Los Angeles Times.
On Saturday night, Jeff Liu was near the entrance when he witnessed the gunman storm in and open fire. He saw his wife collapse, Blees said.
They got separated and he never saw her again.
Jeff Liu’s shoulder was grazed by two bullets. He was discharged from the hospital on Sunday.
CHIA LING YAU
Chia Ling Yau, 76, had a passion for music, dance and travel, his family said in a statement, the Washington Post reported.
Yau’s family said he was a caring father, uncle, brother and friend who was a happy, fun-loving person. His family said that he was the kind of friend who was generous with his time, and to his children “he was generous with words of love and affirmation.”
Stengle contributed to this report from Dallas. Also contributing to this report were reporters Terry Tang and Amy Taxin in Monterey Park, Calif., and researchers Jennifer Farrar and Rhonda Shafner in New York.