MONTEREY PARK: Ten people have died and at least 10 others were wounded in a mass shooting at a dance club in a largely Asian city in southern California, police said Sunday, with the suspect still at large hours later. The gunman opened fire as the local community were celebrating Lunar New Year at the venue in Monterey Park, with witnesses saying he shot indiscriminately with a semiautomatic weapon.

Captain Andrew Meyer of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said officers had responded to emergency calls around 10:20 pm on Saturday (6:20 Sunday GMT) and found people pouring out of the premises. "The officers made entry to the location and located additional victims," he said. "The Monterey Park Fire Department responded to the scene and treated the injured and pronounced 10 of the victims deceased at the scene. There are at least 10 additional victims that were transported to numerous local hospitals and are listed in various conditions from stable to critical. The suspect fled the scene and remains outstanding."

Police gave no description of the wanted man, and did not say what kind of gun he used. Sheriff's deputies were scouring the scene Sunday morning for clues and had established a security perimeter around the area, an AFP reporter said. A helicopter flew overhead, as television trucks set up to broadcast. At the entrance to Monterey Park, only a few miles from downtown Los Angeles, a banner celebrating the Lunar New Year remained in place.

Monterey Park is home to around 60,000 people, the majority of them Asian or Asian American. Meyer said detectives were also aware of another incident in the neighboring city of Alhambra. "We have investigators on scene trying to determine if there's a connection between these two incidents," he said. Media reports said an attempted shooting at a ballroom and dance studio in Alhambra had been thwarted, with the alleged gunman tackled and disarmed, and no injuries reported.

US President Joe Biden has been briefed about the killings in Monterey Park, and ordered the FBI to give "full support" to local authorities, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre tweeted. The shooting was the deadliest in the US since a shooter in Uvalde, Texas killed 22 people at an elementary school last May 24. Local resident Wong Wei told the Los Angeles Times his friend had been at the Monterey Park dance club, and had been in the bathroom when the shooting erupted.

When she emerged, she saw a man carrying a long gun and firing indiscriminately, as well as the bodies of three people, two of them women and one person who he said was the boss of the club. The paper reported that Seung Won Choi, who owns a seafood barbecue restaurant near the scene, said three people had run into his restaurant and told him to lock the door. The three said there was a man with a semiautomatic gun who had multiple rounds of ammunition on him, and would reload every time he ran out, Choi told the paper.

Tens of thousands of people had gathered earlier in the day for the two-day Lunar New Year festival, which is one of the largest in Southern California. The second day of the festival, Sunday, was canceled after the attack. "My heart is broken for the victims, their families, and the people of my hometown Monterey Park who were impacted by the mass shooting," Representative Judy Chu, the first Chinese American woman elected to the US Congress and a former mayor of Monterey Park, said on Twitter.

Meyer said detectives did not know whether the suspect knew his victims or was targeting a particular group. "We will look at every angle," he said, adding that officers were reviewing surveillance footage. "It's just too early in the investigation to know whether this incident was a hate crime or not," he told reporters. The US Department of Justice said there were over 7,000 reported hate crimes in the United States in 2021, affecting more than 9,000 people. Two thirds of those were race-related, it said.

Gun violence is a huge problem in the United States, which saw 647 mass shootings last year, according to the Gun Violence Archive website, defined as an incident with four or more people shot or killed, not including the shooter. Across the US, more than 44,000 people died from gunshot wounds in 2022, more than half of which were suicides. The country has more weapons than people: one in three adults owns at least one weapon and nearly one in two adults lives in a home where there is a weapon.  - AFP