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Monterey Park memorial visitors honor victims, call for gun reform

A sea of flowers and candles has formed in front of the Star Ballroom Dance Studio after one of several recent mass shootings across the country.
Posted at 2:34 PM, Jan 26, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-26 14:34:00-05

It was a very somber mood in Monterey Park, California, as Vice President Kamala Harris showed up and looked at the memorial in front of the Star Ballroom Dance Studio after a mass shooting that took the lives of 11 people. She took time to stop at each photo of the victims and then laid a bouquet of flowers on what has already become a sea of flowers and candles.

Harris spoke with the press very briefly and was asked on her way back to her motorcade if this Congress — with newly sworn in Republicans in control in the House — could get anything meaningful done on gun reform. 

"Can they do something? Yes. Should they do something? Yes. Will they do something? That is where we must all speak up and speak to our elected representatives," she said. 

This comes after California's governor called the Second Amendment a "suicide pact." Harris came out and offered condolences, but also said we have to hold those in power accountable. 

Gov. Newsom has been calling very forcefully on the federal government to do something on guns. In the meantime, what's left for this community to do is to mourn, grieve, try to put the pieces back together. 

And there's one organization Scripps News ran into that has built an oddly familiar way to sort of reclaim the public space, they say, for those who need to grieve. 

Monterey Park area mourns residents killed at Lunar New Year festival

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A gunman killed 11 people and injured nine others at a dance studio in Monterey Park, California, during the town's Lunar New Year celebrations.

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Outside the sites of mass shootings all over the country, memorials have become familiar. They're part of a gruesome routine — one that almost blurs from one school to another workplace to a dance hall near Los Angeles. 

But in Monterey Park, Noah Reich is trying to create a temple, of sorts, for the innocent lives caught in the crossfire of a sickness we refuse to treat. 

"I'm here, along with my partner, David, both as artists and Angelenos," he said. "What we'll be doing later this evening is beginning to put portraits representing each of the 11 victims of this shooting into the center of these altars."

Reich started a group called Classroom of Compassion in 2018. It was little surprise that his work was needed in no time at all, right down the highway from his home in Los Angeles. 

"The first shooting that we showed up to in the days after the event was the Borderline Bar and Grill shooting that took place miles away from here in Thousand Oaks," he shared. 

Since then, he's been to some 20 other mass shootings from Uvalde to Buffalo to Colorado Springs

"We traveled to different communities representing Los Angeles, or on behalf of the warmth and love of Los Angeles," Reich said.

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Then, it hit home. 

"What happened here in Monterey Park on Saturday night is really the first tragedy since the start of this that has taken place in our backyard," Reich said.

Each altar, as he calls them, is unique — constructed for each event, for each life cut short. 

"What we work to do in the weeks ahead is create matching sets — like a tabletop version of these altars — that we work to give to each of the families after this tragedy," Reich continued.

It's some token of love, of compassion for a family in a solemn club that just keeps growing. 

"It's hard enough taking the number of losses of these tragedies, but alone remembering that each of these people had loved ones, had families, loved dancing, had their whole lives ahead of them," Reich said.

He says he hopes he can continue to do this work. In a really heartbreaking way, Reich says he thinks his organization actually can grow so they can do more of this work in more places. The sad thing is, that's where we are as a country.

The gunman did not know the 11 victims whose lives he took, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff. Investigators are still working to determine a motive.