Shortly after 10 p.m. on Saturday, My Nhan, 65, and her dance partner that night, an older man, decided to leave the Lunar New Year celebration at Star Ballroom Dance Studio a little early.
Ms. Nhan was the driver, and she was beginning to back up when she noticed a figure walking behind her vehicle. She stepped on the brake to allow the person to keep going. Within seconds, the interaction turned tragic.
In the quiet parking lot, the figure — later identified by the authorities as the suspected gunman — walked up to the driver’s window and shot Ms. Nhan several times. Ms. Nhan, known as Mymy, was the first person fatally shot in the rampage in Monterey Park, Calif., that left 11 people dead.
Her passenger, after managing to escape uninjured, went on to recount the horrifying final moments of Ms. Nhan’s life to her relatives, including a niece, Fonda Quan, 32.
“Her wounds were all on her left side,” Ms. Quan said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “There is a chance that she did not even have a chance to see the person. All the shots hit my aunt.”
Ms. Quan joined many others on Monday in making a sad pilgrimage to the Los Angeles Coroner’s office to identify their loved ones and pick up personal belongings.
“And just seeing those items, I mean, it was definitely difficult,” she said, holding back tears.
The coroner’s office plans to conduct an autopsy before Ms. Nhan’s body is released to her relatives. Then the family can begin the painful process of making funeral arrangements.
Ms. Nhan, the second-youngest of six siblings, emigrated from Vietnam in the 1980s and settled in Rosemead, Calif., about 5 miles from Monterey Park. She did not have children, but loved her nine nieces and nephews as if they were her own, Ms. Quan said.
Ms. Nhan was “really into fashion,” her niece said, and gravitated toward any activity she considered part of a healthy lifestyle, like ballroom dancing — especially salsa and waltz.
Ms. Nhan had also been taking care of her mother, who died a little more than a month ago, Ms. Quan said. After grieving for weeks, she said, “we were really looking forward to, you know, start that Lunar New Year fresh. And unfortunately, this happened.”
The San Gabriel Valley is home to a cluster of small cities like Monterey Park where large immigrant populations, many of them from Asia, have formed close bonds, especially among those in the ballroom dancing community, Ms. Quan said. Though they are near Los Angeles, the cities tend to feel like smaller towns.
On Saturday night, Ms. Quan was at home with her newborn when she received a call from her mother at an unusually late hour. Someone inside the ballroom had called Ms. Quan’s mother moments earlier to say that Ms. Nhan had been shot. The news was so unfathomable, Ms. Quan said, that for a few minutes she and her mother wondered if it was a prank.
Ms. Quan rushed to the scene and saw police officers and emergency crews everywhere. “This is where we realize, you know, this, it might have been a real incident,” she said.
In the interview, she could not help referring to Ms. Nhan in the present tense.
“The one thing that I think she’ll be best remembered by, is just exactly how kindhearted she is, how cheerful she is, and just being kind and friendly to everyone,” Ms. Quan said.