Monterey Park shooting victims include ‘loving aunt’ and joyful dancer

A vigil honoring the victims of the Monterey Park, Calif., shooting. (Ashley Landis/AP)

The Lunar New Year celebration began with revelers dancing under colorful lights. It ended with 11 lives cut violently short and memorial flowers piling up on the pavement.

The mass killing at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio on Saturday night has devastated the majority-Asian community of Monterey Park, Calif., which residents affectionately refer to as the nation’s first suburban Chinatown. The five men and six women killed in the gunfire had gathered for what organizers described as the studio’s biggest party of the year.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner identified all of the victims: My My Nhan, 65; Lilan Li, 63; Xiujuan Yu, 57; Muoi Dai Ung, 67; Hongying Jian, 62; Yu Lun Kao, 72; Chia Ling Yau, 76; Valentino Marcos Alvero, 68; Wen Tau Yu, 64; Ming Wei Ma, 72; and Diana Man Ling Tom, 70. (The coroner had previously given Li’s first name as Lilian.)

Here’s what we know about some of the lives lost.

My My Nhan

My My Nhan, 65, was a regular at the dance studio for years before she was fatally shot at the Lunar New Year party.

She used to take Latin dance classes, and fellow student Marlene Xu said she knew right away that Nhan was an experienced dancer.

“She always, when you see her, she [was] always smiling, and she loved to Latin dance,” Xu said.

When class was over and the students would sit with the teachers, Nhan would bring out snacks for the group, Xu recalled fondly. When Nhan had to leave early, she would still leave snacks behind for her classmates.

Dancing is “what she loved to do,” journalist Tiffany Liou, who said she is married to Nhan’s nephew, tweeted on behalf of Nhan’s family. “But unfairly, Saturday was her last dance.”

Liou shared a photo of Nhan grinning in a shimmery teal dress.

“If you knew her, you knew her warm smile and kindness was contagious,” the statement said. “She was a loving aunt, sister, daughter and friend. Mymy was our biggest cheerleader.”

Valentino Marcos Alvero

Ballroom dancing has always been Valentino Marcos Alvero’s “thing.” It’s what he was doing when he was killed during the Monterey Park shooting.

For years, the dance floor was where the 68-year-old had “found his joy,” his niece Karmel Kwan said. Of all the moments when she has seen her uncle dance, her favorite was in February 2022, when a cousin got married in Las Vegas and Alvero was one of the most enthusiastic dancers at the reception.

“That’s just like his hobby, which is why it’s also heartbreaking because he just went there to have fun, and that’s how he goes,” Kwan said.

A father of two, grandfather to three and an uncle to many nieces and nephews, Alvero loved “fiercely” and was the “life of any party,” his family said in a statement Monday night.

“We hope that he danced to his heart’s content until the very end and hope that he is now dancing in heaven,” the Alvero family said.

Ming Wei Ma

Ming Wei Ma’s English was limited, said Star Dance instructor Dariusz “Darek” Michalski, but there was one expression he knew well: “I love you.”

Those were the words “he used the most,” Michalski said.

At Star Dance, the 72-year-old man was known as “Mr. Ma.”

Michalski said he was a long-term friend of Star Dance’s owner who helped her run the studio “like her right-hand man.”

“He was happy when the studio was busy, when people were coming and dancing and he was there,” he said.

Ma was known to organize annual Lunar New Year festivities, including a recent dance production at a local Chinese-language TV station.

Days before his death, he shared videos of dancers learning choreography for the event, according to Cheer Pan, the executive director of the Pan American Chinese Dance Association.

This 2021 video shows Ming Wei Ma dancing at Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, Calif. (Video: Courtesy of Hattie Peng)

“Very energetic,” Pan said. “Great posture. Just a very handsome dancer.”

Alex Satrain, a ballroom dance instructor who taught at Star Dance Studio before the pandemic, remembers Ma as a familiar face who helped him with lights, music and rearranging furniture.

“He was nice to me,” Satrain said. “He was nice to everyone.”

David Duval, a dance instructor whom Ma hired, said Ma was a “super funny guy” known to lounge in the studio’s massage chair and a talented singer who used to perform on TV in his native China.

“He’ll be incredibly missed,” Duval said.

Diana Man Ling Tom

Diana Man Ling Tom loved to dance, her family said in a statement. It was how the 70-year-old woman chose to celebrate the Lunar New Year — dancing with friends at Star Ballroom Dance Studio.

When the gunman opened fire at the studio, Tom was wounded. She was taken to a hospital in critical condition and later died of her injuries.

Tom’s family remembered her as a “hard-working mother, wife and grandmother” in a statement, which was shared on a GoFundMe page launched to support them with medical, funeral and other needs.

“To those who knew her, she was someone who always went out of her way to give to others,” the statement added.

The Tom family condemned “this senseless act of violence,” saying it had uprooted the lives of victims, their families and the entire Asian Pacific Islander community. “We honor and support all of those affected,” the statement said.

Muoi Dai Ung

Muoi Dai Ung, 67, loved to dance, eat and gamble. On the eve of Lunar New Year, she was at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio with her best friend.

“She was very extroverted,” her niece Juily Phun said. Like a lot of refugees, “she was looking to build a life in the United States different from the sorrows she had experienced.”

A Chinese Vietnamese refugee, Ung came to the United States from Vietnam more than a decade ago to reunite with her siblings and their families who had fled the country on boats in the 1970s and ’80s.

At a vigil for the victims Tuesday at City Hall, Monterey Park City Council member Thomas Wong, reading a statement from Ung’s family, said, “Much like our community, she was complicated, messy, easy to love and sometimes hard to understand from the outside.”

She came to Monterey Park, the statement said, not only because she loved to dance but because she knew “this is where the heart of the Asian American community beats strongest.”

Ung worked odd jobs, including as a seamstress, and lived a few miles east of Monterey Park. This month, Ung’s daughter was visiting from overseas after many years.

“She came to see her mother, and now she has to bury her,” Phun said.

Chia Ling Yau

Affectionately called “Charlie,” Chia Ling Yau, 76, was a caring father, uncle, brother and friend. Music, dance and travel were his passions, and he took every opportunity to cultivate them, his family said in a statement Tuesday.

Yau’s family described him as a happy and fun-loving person who believed in living life to the fullest.

As a friend, he was generous with his time, his family said. “As a father, he was generous with words of love and affirmation.”

Yu Lun Kao

Yu Lun Kao was often the oldest one in class, but you wouldn’t know it by watching him move.

Kao, who also went by Andy, was a fleet-footed 72-year-old — a skilled, dedicated dancer who moved gracefully and learned fast.

He ran a construction business, but dancing was his real passion, his older brother, Alan Kao, said in an interview. Evie Quiñones, the owner of Evie Dance Studio in Pomona, said Kao showed up at her studio last year, eager to learn how to dance salsa and bachata.

Most of Quiñones’s students are younger Latinos, she said, but Kao, who emigrated from Taiwan, “fit right in.” Soon, he was coming nearly every day. Quiñones, who began giving him private lessons, described him as pleasant but serious, a quiet gentleman.

But he would crack a smile when she greeted him in Mandarin and talked about her trips to Taiwan. Upon entering the studio, he had a strict regimen: He’d sit down, stretch and don his dancing shoes. On the dance floor, he opened up, immediately taking to the less serious, rule-breaking routines Quiñones had taught him. She recalled “how beautiful he moved.”

“He was committed to learning how to dance salsa,” she said. “And he did!”

Hongying Jian

Hongying Jian, 62, was known for offering food to her neighbors, Serena Liu, a next-door neighbor, told the Los Angeles Times.

Jian, who also went by Nancy, liked to play volleyball, sing and play the piano, Liu said. “She’s a very active person,” Liu told the Times. “She used to say she can make friends with anyone if she wants.”

Xiujuan Yu

Xiujuan Yu, 57, left a life behind in China to build a new future for her family in the United States.

She immigrated to the United States about a decade ago, her niece wrote in the description of an online fundraiser supporting the family. She and her husband took on odd jobs to support their three children, including twins who are in college, and set them up for success.

“Now to have that journey suddenly interrupted is heartbreaking,” Kathleen Fong added in the GoFundMe description. “She will never be able to witness what she dreamed of for all these years.”

Wen Tau Yu

As a 64-year-old retiree, Wen Tau Yu was embarking on a new career path.

He was a month into a program to become a pharmacist, his son, Szu Fa Yu, told the New York Times, adding, “I really admire him for that.” He said his father’s notes were still sitting on his desk, calling it a “heartbreaking” sight.

An immigrant from Taiwan, Yu once worked as a manager at an agricultural company, his son told the newspaper. He “always supported our family,” he said.

On Saturday, Yu headed out with friends to celebrate the Lunar New Year. When he failed to return, the New York Times reported, his family reported him as missing. They didn’t know him to be a dancer and wondered, after learning that he was among the Star Ballroom Dance Studio victims, whether he might have been passing by at the time of the shooting.

“When I first found out, I just could not believe it,” the younger Yu told the New York Times. “Now, the sadness is growing.”

Niha Masih, Daniel Wu, Meryl Kornfield, María Luisa Paúl, Brittany Shammas, Marisa Iati, Kelly Kasulis Cho, Danielle Paquette, Silvia Foster-Frau, Praveena Somasundaram and Reis Thebault contributed to this report.

More on the California shootings

The latest: California has grappled with two mass killings in three days. A weekend shooting at a dance studio in Monterey Park left 11 people dead, and seven people were killed in related shootings at two locations around Half Moon Bay.

The victims: The identified Monterey Park shooting victims include a “loving aunt” and a joyful dancer. The people killed in the gunfire were all in their 50s, 60s and 70s, police said. Authorities have not released the victims’ identities in the Half Moon Bay shooting.

The suspects: Police identified the Monterey Park suspect as Huu Can Tran, a 72-year-old man of Asian descent, who was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound Sunday. Authorities arrested 67-year-old Zhao Chunli in connection with the Half Moon Bay shootings. He admitted to the shooting rampage at two farms and said he was bullied.

The weapon: Officers have described three guns they linked to the Monterey Park attacker: A rifle found in his home, a handgun recovered from his van and what they said was a modified semiautomatic taken away at the second dance studio. In the Half Moon Bay shootings, authorities recovered a semiautomatic handgun from the vehicle the suspect was located in. California’s gun laws are some of the strongest in the nation.

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