‘Always smiling’: Man who managed ballroom among those slain

MONTEREY PARK, Calif. (AP) — For those who made their way to the Star Ballroom over the years, Ming Wei Ma was a bright light, always smiling and encouraging those who came to the Los Angeles area dance hall popular with older Asian Americans.

Ma, 72, who managed the Star Ballroom Dance Studio, was identified Tuesday as one of the 11 people killed when a gunman opened fire Saturday night at the Monterey Park dance hall. The victims, who ranged in age from 57 to 76, had gathered there to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

Siu Fong said she would sometimes lead karaoke outings for seniors there, where Ma would always say hello everyone.

“He was a very, very kind person, very helpful,” Fong told The Associated Press on Monday night while at a vigil. “And he would go into my session and talk to the singers and greet them.”

Dance instructor Walter Calderon, who has taught classes at the dance hall, remembered Ma as a “very nice guy who was always smiling.” Calderon said that Ma, who helped him with events he held at the studio, was also a talented dancer.

Calderon said that while Ma didn’t speak much English, he conveyed a lot with his facial expressions.

“He was a genuine, special person who was loved by all,” Calderon told The Associated Press.

He said that when he’d run into Ma outside the dance hall, Ma would always offer him a cigarette.

“I really liked the Chinese cigarettes he smoked, and asked him if he would buy me a pack,” Calderon said. “He had them for me the very next week.”

Calderon, a native of the Philippines, said in Asian communities, dance halls play an important role in the lives of seniors who are looking for companionship and “something to do.”

The women killed were: Diana Tom, 70; Muoi Ung, 67; My Nhan, 65; Lilian Li, 63; Hong Jian, 62; and Xiujuan Yu, 57, according to Los Angeles coroner’s office. In addition to Ma, listed by the coroner’s office as Ming Ma, the men killed were: Chia Yau, 76; Yu Kao, 72; Valentino Alvero, 68; and Wen Yu, 64.

Nhan’s family, who called her Mymy, said she had been a regular at the Star Ballroom for over a decade and recalled her smile, kindness and love for her nieces and nephews. Alvero’s family said he was a dedicated family man who loved ballroom dancing and was “the life of any party.”

The massacre was the nation’s fifth mass killing this month, and it struck one of California’s largest celebrations of a holiday observed in many Asian cultures. Asian Americans around the U.S. have been the target of high-profile violence in recent years.

Sheriff Robert Luna called the gunman, 72-year-old Huu Can Tran, a “mad man” and said investigators were looking into whether he had relationships with the people who were shot at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio.

Tran, who may have had a history of visiting the dance hall, entered another nearby ballroom about 20 minutes after the first attack but was disarmed before anyone was shot and fled. He shot and killed himself Sunday.

Ma told The Pasadena Star-News for a 2016 story that he wanted to make the ballroom a place where different cultures could come together through dance.

“I want to provide an active place for the Asian community of Monterey Park to help prolong their life and improve their health,” Ma told the newspaper. “Having a place where people from all over the world can come together and communicate through dance is how I can help.”

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Bharath contributed to this report from Los Angeles and Stengle contributed from Dallas.

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