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Monterey Park shooter voiced paranoid threats to police years before opening fire, records show

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Three decades before he shot 11 people to death in a Monterey Park ballroom, Huu Can Tran told police he believed relatives of a woman he’d been dating had threatened to kill him and were trying to lure him into a trap.

Tran’s suspicions — which were apparently groundless — were laid out in documents obtained by The Times from the San Gabriel Police Department. The records provide some insight into what appears to be his paranoid worldview. Just this month, authorities said, he went twice to the police station in Hemet, where he’d moved into a trailer park, and claimed his family had defrauded and tried to poison him.

Twelve days later, Tran, 72, opened fire in Star Ballroom Dance Studio on Garvey Avenue, killing 11 people on the eve of the Lunar New Year. He killed himself the next day as police closed in on his van in a Torrance strip mall.

Investigators have not disclosed whether they have identified a motive, and Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said last week they knew of no connection between Tran and his victims, who ranged in age from 57 to 76.

The sheriff said Tran had been arrested just once — in 1990, on suspicion of illegally possessing a firearm — but provided no other details.

The San Gabriel police records shed light on that arrest. The evening of Nov. 27, 1990, Officer James Kermode responded to a radio call of a possible robbery at Glendon Way and Del Mar Avenue. Tran, then 40, ran up to Kermode’s patrol car and said a liquor store had just been robbed, the officer wrote in a report.

Tran offered to show Kermode the store that had been victimized. Before driving him there, the officer did a “quick pat-down” for weapons. In Tran’s left jacket pocket, Kermode found a loaded RG40 .38-caliber revolver, according to the report. Tran was handcuffed and driven to the San Gabriel police station.

After waiving his Miranda rights, Tran said he’d been walking his dog when he saw a man running out of George’s Liquor on New Avenue carrying a “metal box.” The owner ran outside, pointed to the man and said he had “robbed money,” Tran told police. He took off running after the man.

As he passed his home on Manor Way, Tran said, he took his dog inside, grabbed his gun and continued tailing the suspect. When the man stopped at a bus stop, Tran said he walked past him and went to a phone booth, from which he called police.

Asked what he intended to do with the revolver, Tran said he “took the gun for protection,” according to the report. He was booked at the city jail on suspicion of carrying a concealed weapon, but there is no record of him being charged with the offense. It is unclear from the police report whether Tran legally owned the gun.

The day after Christmas in 1992, Tran called San Gabriel police and claimed he was being threatened. Officer C.E. Gray went to his home on Manor Way to take a report.

Tran told the officer he’d met a woman about four months earlier at a Tokai restaurant and had been “dating her occasionally since then,” Gray wrote. She had recently confided in Tran that she was married but seeking a divorce.

Tran said he received a phone call from the sister of the woman’s husband. The sister-in-law, he said, told him she’d recently come to California from Taiwan and belonged to an unspecified Taiwanese gang. The woman said that if he kept seeing her brother’s wife, she would have one of her “buddies” kill him, Tran claimed.

Tran, who reported working as a self-employed carpet cleaner, told police he got another call from a man who asked him to come “immediately” to clean the carpets in his Torrance home. Knowing that both the husband and sister-in-law of the woman he was dating lived in Torrance, Tran thought it could be a setup, and he told the caller he didn’t work in the evening, he told police.

“I just want you to come here tonight,” Tran recalled the man saying.

Three weeks after making the report, Tran contacted the police again and said that morning he’d found 49 shotgun shells on his front lawn. He claimed a relative of the woman he was dating had left the ammunition to “scare” him, the report says.

Tran agreed to place a recording device on his home line, but after it failed to work because of an unspecified malfunction, he told police “he did not want prosecution,” an officer wrote, “but only to make the police department aware of the situation in case something happened to him.”

When the officer called the husband of the woman Tran had been dating, the man, whose name is redacted, said he had never called Tran, much less threatened him.

The man acknowledged having “marital problems” and was aware Tran and his wife had been “seeing each other when he leaves the country on business,” the report says. The man said it was not he who was calling Tran but the other way around: Tran, he said, had been calling his home phone “at all times of the night,” hoping his wife would pick up.

Noting there was no physical evidence to support Tran’s allegations, the officer closed the case.

Seven years later, Tran called San Gabriel police and said he was being threatened again, records show. He told the officer who responded to his house that, for the last nine months, he’d received “numerous” calls at home, the officer wrote in a report.

“[Tran] said the suspect does not say anything when he answers the phone and has no idea who the suspect is,” the officer wrote, signing off with “NFD” — no further details.

In the report, Tran’s occupation is listed as “dancing instructor / self-employed.”

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