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Californians are reeling from 2 mass shootings that left at least 18 people dead

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Californians had just started to recover and dry out from wave upon wave of devastating rainstorms when mass killings north and south riveted and scared California residents. Two shootings by what police say was a single gunman took seven lives in Half Moon Bay. Less than 48 hours earlier, 11 people were killed in Monterey Park. That's where a vigil last night remembered the dead, as NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.

ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: Several hundred people turned out last night on the lawn in front of Monterey Park City Hall to remember those 11 killed, all of them older Asians. They were out celebrating a Lunar New Year's Eve Saturday night, dancing happy at the Star Dance Studio when a gunman opened fire. The air at the vigil smelled of scented candles people carried from home as city leaders tried to offer words of comfort.

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JOSE SANCHEZ: We are gathered here to honor the 11 beautiful souls who were taken from us.

WESTERVELT: But people didn't turn out for speeches. They came out for each other. Emotions were raw. Tears flowed as community members and friends of the dead gathered. Some who survived the shooting were there, too.

DANIEL HSIU: Beginning to end, I saw the whole thing, whole thing. Yeah.

WESTERVELT: Daniel Hsiu was at the dance studio. They had just started a line dance when gunfire broke out. Hsiu hid on the floor. He saw five of his friends killed. He's struggling to process it all, still reeling. Memories of people running and hiding, he says, keep coming back.

D HSIU: People crying. I also see the blood flowing from the body, the shoulder, falling on the ground. This much. Yeah.

WESTERVELT: His son, Michael Hsiu, came with him to the vigil. His dad had called him panicked while fleeing the shooting.

MICHAEL HSIU: I was in disbelief. And I couldn't believe what I heard. And in my mind, I was thinking, like, it was such a close call that it could have been him.

WESTERVELT: Michael Hsiu says the deadly shooting spree at two farms in Half Moon Bay less than 48 hours later is making it even harder for both he and his father to comprehend this week's violence. Governor Gavin Newsom had been meeting with survivors and community members in Monterey Park Monday when he got word of that other attack. Newsom traveled to Half Moon Bay Tuesday.

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GAVIN NEWSOM: Only in America do we see this kind of carnage, this kind of destruction of communities and lives and confidence.

WESTERVELT: Gunman Chunli Zhao shot five people at Mountain Mushroom Farm, where he worked, killing four and then drove to a nearby farm where he once worked and fatally shot three more. The victims were Asian and Hispanic, and some were migrant farm workers. Newsom called out Republicans in Washington for staying mostly silent on the shootings and for obstructing gun control legislation. But he seemed to have more questions than answers to go with his horror and frustration.

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NEWSOM: I got no ideological opposition to someone owning a gun responsibly. But what the hell is wrong with us that we allow these weapons of war, large capacity clips out on the streets and sidewalks? Why have we allowed this culture, this pattern, to continue?

WESTERVELT: Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay were not the only recent deadly shootings in the state. Just over a week ago, a gunman shot and killed six in the central California farming community of Goshen. Those murdered included a 16-year-old mother holding her 10-month-old baby son. They were shot in the forehead, execution style. Those killings remain unsolved.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Westervelt
Eric Westervelt is a San Francisco-based correspondent for NPR's National Desk. He has reported on major events for the network from wars and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to historic wildfires and terrorist attacks in the U.S.