By JAMIE STENGLE, RIO YAMAT and DEEPA BHARATH, Associated Press
Those killed by a gunman who opened fire at a Los Angeles-area dance hall are being remembered by friends and family for the zest for life that brought them out that night to celebrate the Lunar New Year.
Eleven people were killed when a gunman opened fire on Jan. 21 at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio, a dance hall in Monterey Park that is popular with older Asian Americans.
“It’s always happy, people just come and have fun, they just love dancing,” Peter Phung, a singer who has performed there and frequently stopped by to sing karaoke as well, told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Following the attack, the gunman went to another nearby ballroom but was disarmed before anyone was shot. He fled — and on Jan. 22 shot and killed himself.
In the days after the shooting, a makeshift memorial with flowers and photos grew in front of the Star Ballroom. And as of Jan. 30, a GoFundMe organized by the Asian Americans Advancing Justice Southern California was nearing $1 million for the families of the victims.
Here are profiles of the 11 people killed:
LiLan Li, 63, who had gone to the Star Ballroom to celebrate the Lunar New Year with friends, was “a pillar of strength and optimism,” her daughter wrote in a fundraising campaign.
“Stolen is the grandmother whose granddaughter fell asleep many a night nestled in between her loving arms!” daughter Min Yi wrote on the GoFundMe website. “Taken away from us is an opportunity for her grandson to ever feel her love and warmth!”
The post on GoFundMe, organized by her nephew, Hao Hua Tan, said that much of Li’s immediate family and close friends live in China, and the family is hoping to raise money to not only help with funeral costs but to also bring them to California for the funeral.
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.
Phung, the singer, remembered Tom as “very friendly, outgoing,” and said that in addition to her passion for dance, she would also frequently perform karaoke at the venue.
Tom’s family said that after she was wounded at the Star Ballroom, she was hospitalized in critical condition. She died on Jan. 22.
Xiujuan Yu, 57, was a married mother of three who “worked tirelessly” to provide for her family, her niece Kathleen Fong wrote in a fundraising campaign to cover funeral costs.
Yu immigrated about a decade ago from China to the U.S., where she and her family, Fong wrote, “have done their best to make a life for themselves” by “working odd jobs and taking on labor-intensive occupations to make ends meet.”
Fong wrote on GoFundMe that Yu and her husband also were financially supporting their twins’ college educations at California universities, where they are studying sports medicine and kinesiology.
Now, Fong wrote, her aunt “will never be able to witness what she dreamed of for all these years.”
Yu, who celebrated her birthday in December, was at the ballroom on the night of the shooting to celebrate the Lunar New Year with friends, but never returned home.
After “days of uncertainty, anxiety, and waiting in worry,” Fong said, Yu was identified as one of the 11 victims.
“Personally, this still doesn’t feel real,” Yu’s niece wrote. “It happened all too quickly.”
Fong did not immediately respond to interview requests from The Associated Press.
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-TV 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 Jan. 21, 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.
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 Jan. 21, 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.”
Last month, Ung’s daughter was visiting her from overseas. “She came to see her mother, and now she has to bury her,” Phun 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 the night of Jan. 21, 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 Jan. 22.
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 and Yamat contributed from Las Vegas. Also contributing to this report were reporters Terry Tang and Amy Taxin in Monterey Park; reporter Christopher Weber in Los Angeles; and researchers Jennifer Farrar and Rhonda Shafner in New York.