'Thank you, Brandon': Hero who wrestled gun from Monterey Park killer honored at Lunar New Year Festival

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ALHAMBRA, Calif. — The man who disarmed the Monterey Park gunman one week ago was honored Sunday by the city at its Lunar New Year Festival as the community begins to heal.

Alhambra has hosted its annual celebration since 1993, but concerns were raised if the event would go forward after the Jan. 21 shooting at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio, less than three miles away. The Monterey Park rampage left 11 people dead and nine injured after that city's Lunar New Year festival.

Ultimately organizers decided to continue with their plans.

"Our message to folks that have asked 'Why are you doing this?' is that this is an opportunity for the community to come together," John Bwarie, CEO of the Alhambra Chamber of Commerce and one of the festival's lead organizers, told USA TODAY. "Being with other people, as a part of the healing process."

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Lai Lai Ballroom hero Brandon Tsay cheered

Brandon Tsay,  who disarmed 72-year-old Huu Can Tran at the Lai Lai Ballroom in Alhambra, received a medal of courage and other recognitions from the Alhambra police, as well as city, county and state officials Sunday.

Tsay received several rounds of applause as people shouted “Thank you, Brandon” and called him a hero. The crowd extended past the festival’s main stage as people stood in the rain during the ceremony.

Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., also announced that Tsay will be President Joe Biden’s guest for his State of the Union address in Washington, D.C., next week. He has also been visited by California Gov. Gavin Newsomspoke on the phone with Biden, and was expected to be visited by Vice President Kamala Harris during her visit to Monterey Park last week.

"To be that guest means that (Biden) will be recognizing Brandon Tsay in front of the entire nation," Chu said.

Tsay thanked all the people that have reached out to him for support, adding that all the encouragement and praise he has received in the past week has allowed him to reflect on his life, and realize life is fragile.

"The situation still feels so surreal to me," he said. "Most of the victims I knew personally. They would always come by the dance studio, and I consider them friends. They were some of the most caring people I've ever met, and for them to be taken from us is such an excruciating experience."

Tsay also took time after the ceremony to meet with festivalgoers, who took pictures with him and continued to thank him.

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'He's definitely a hero'

Mandy Ho, a resident of Ontario, California, said she decided to come to the festival after hearing Tsay was going to be recognized. She wanted to come and support him and the community. She compared seeing Tsay to seeing a celebrity.

"He's definitely a hero," Ho said. "Sometimes you just freeze and you don't know what to do... he had the courage and I really honor him for his heroic actions."

Officials that took the stage Sunday reiterated the belief that what Tsay did save additional lives inside the Alhambra ballroom.

"One thing is clear: he took action because he wanted to save the lives of the people in that ballroom right down the street from us. I know that had he not done what he did, the carnage would have been double," Chu said.

A person holds a sign in support of Brandon Tsay during Alhambra's ceremony at its Lunar New Year festival on Jan. 29, 2023.
A person holds a sign in support of Brandon Tsay during Alhambra's ceremony at its Lunar New Year festival on Jan. 29, 2023.

Festival concerns, increased police presence

Some vendors and performers pulled out of the event because of safety and community concerns.

Although the festival will be slightly smaller, there was help for people still trying to process the shooting, organizers said. The event typically has counseling services that provide health services such as blood pressure checks and flu shots, but mental health professionals will also be on site to provide services.

An initial concern organizers had in the immediate aftermath of the shooting was whether the gunman had an anti-Asian motive. While authorities have yet to determine a motive, Alhambra Mayor Adele Andrade-Stadler said Los Angeles County Sheriff officials determined the event was still safe to go on and there would be additional police.

"Once they said that, we decided to go through with it just because we thought it would be a good way to keep us together and begin to heal," she told USA TODAY.

A child takes a picture near decorations set up for the city of Alhambra's Lunar New Year Festival on Jan. 29, 2023.
A child takes a picture near decorations set up for the city of Alhambra's Lunar New Year Festival on Jan. 29, 2023.

'Our need to come together'

Other than being next to each other in the heart of the San Gabriel Valley, Alhambra and Monterey Park share many similarities, including both being home to strong Asian communities. But the events at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio and Lai Lai Ballroom connected the city even more.

"It solidified our relationship together and our need to come together and to be with each other," Andrade-Stadler said. "It's a crisis we're facing together."

Andrade-Stadler added Tsay's presence would be part of the community's healing.

Chu added that part of the healing is to not only honor Tsay's actions but continue sharing the stories of the lives lost.

"These are the people that truly define us, and they make this community what it is and show that this community is so remarkable," she said.

Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jordan_mendoza5.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Hero who wrestled gun from Monterey Park shooter honored at festival