Lunar New Year celebrations kicked off over the weekend in Chicago, but Sunday’s events were marred by news of a gunman killing 10 people and wounding 10 others Saturday night at a Los Angeles-area Lunar New Year celebration.
For many, this year was supposed to be a return to normalcy after restrictions and lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the celebration in 2021 and a limited event last year.
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At St. Therese Chinese Catholic Church in Chinatown, the sound of 8,000 firecrackers marked the beginning of Sunday’s celebration.
Families sat shoulder to shoulder as the pews were filled to capacity with around 300 people. Parishioners and students from St. Therese Chinese Catholic School performed traditional dances that honored their Chinese culture. The service showcased Catholic and Chinese traditions and focused on the importance of family, blessings and prosperity.
The Rev. Francis Li began Mass on a somber note.
He asked the parish to pray for the people killed and wounded in Monterey Park, a city on the eastern edge of Los Angeles, and also for the gunman. “We want peace,” said Li. “We want people to feel safe. We have faith, and we place our hope in Jesus.”
According to The Associated Press, the Saturday night shooting at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio left five women and five men dead and wounded another 10 people. Shortly after, a man with a gun entered the Lai Lai Ballroom in nearby Alhambra. Authorities believe the two events are connected.
The suspect in both cases was described as an Asian male. He entered the Alhambra club with a gun, and people wrestled the weapon away from him before he fled, police said.
The shooting sent a wave of fear through Asian American communities in the Los Angeles area and cast a shadow over Lunar New Year festivities around the country.
The massacre was the nation’s fifth mass killing this month. It was also the deadliest attack since May 24, when 21 people were killed in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. In Highland Park, seven people were killed and dozens injured in a shooting at a Fourth of July parade last summer.
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Eddy Tan, a father of three children, ages 5, 3 and 9 months, said he didn’t hear about the shooting until he was on his way to the church Sunday morning. He said that news was on his mind, but he felt safe in church.
Tan, who said the festivities were “really awesome,” hadn’t attended the celebration since the COVID-19 pandemic. He said he used to go to the church but now lives in Schaumburg.
Tan said he wanted to go to the service to introduce his kids to Chinese culture.
“We like seeing the community help each other in these times,” he said.
Michelle Mark and her daughter, Mia, 13, have been going to the celebrations for years. Mia, a student at St. Therese, said having a packed church makes the celebration feel more intimate. “It’s great to see the community come together as a community.”
Mark said she heard about the shootings Sunday morning on her way to church, but it didn’t affect her decision to come to the celebration. “You can’t live in fear,” she said.
Lunar Year Celebrations will continue around Chicagoland for the next 15 days. The Lunar New Year Parade will take place in Chinatown on Jan. 29.
The Associated Press contributed.