The 26-year-old man, who met eyes with the Monterey Park shooter before he wrestled a gun from him, says that he was confident he would lose his life.
“There was a moment I actually froze up because I was — I had the belief that I was gonna die. Like, my life was ending here at that very moment,” Brandon Tsay explained in an interview on Jan. 23 with NBC News.
On Jan 21., 11 people were killed, and another nine were injured by a suspect, later identified as 72-year-old Huu Can Tran.
The victims were attending a Lunar New Year celebration held at Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, California, when the suspected gunman opened fire. Nearly 20 minutes later, Tran entered Lai Lai Ballroom and Studio in Alhambra, which Tsay says was founded by his grandmother 30 years ago and where Tsay works at the front desk.
Tran described the club as a “fun place” where people gather to “exercise, dance with each other. Socialize.” His family has been associated with the location for three generations.
Tsay says at around 10:30 p.m., the suspect entered the facilities. He says that the Monterey Park shooting had been “so close” to when the incident at his studio took place that news of it had yet to reach him.
“When I first saw him, my thoughts were — oh my God, that’s a gun,” Tsay recalled in his NBC interview. “And what followed was the severity of what I saw. There’s a weapon, potentially, people could get killed.”
Tsay recalled how the suspect aimed the weapon directly at him, but the weapon did not go off.
Though the suspect never said a word to him in the lead-up to their struggle for the gun, Tsay says his eyes told him “he wanted to do harm, like he was a troubled individual trying to do harm to others and make people feel the pain he was feeling.”
Surveillance video obtained by NBC News captured the moment Tsay and the gunman struggled for the weapon.
“He started to try to prep his weapons so he could shoot everybody,” he explained. “But then it… dawned on me that this was the moment to disarm him. I could do something here that could protect everybody and potentially save myself.”
Tsay remembered that at that moment, very briefly, his thoughts turned to his friends and family.
“I was thinking about my family and my friends — what their life would be without me,” he said. “But even those were leisures that I didn’t have at the time because I needed to take action. I needed to get his gun away.”
Realizing his attention was diverted to reloading his gun, Tsay moved out from the suspect’s sight at first.
“I slowly crept out of the site because his gaze was on his weapon at the time. So maybe two steps, three steps, and then I was in a position where I could immediately rush him,” he explained, adding that his position put him in a straight beeline toward the gun. “So I lunged at him and grabbed it with both my hands holding on for dear life.”
Tsay said that his first thought was to divert the gun away from anyone in the studio and down onto the ground if he opened fire.
Surveillance footage shows Tsay as he tussles for the gun while the suspect, seen wearing a knitted black cap, attempts to strong-arm him off. At one point, the suspect knocks Tsay in the jaw while the latter attempts to shove him off.
“He was also trying to retaliate against me,” Tsay noted. “He was trying to bump me, trying to shove me aside. At one point, he just made the mistake of trying to use his dominant arms to hit me and give me a wave.”
With only one arm in the way, Tsay managed to seize the weapon entirely.
In the end, the footage shows Tsay as he gives the suspect one final push and shouts to him before forcefully pointing him toward the door.
Tsay explained that the audio that cannot be heard in the surveillance footage is of him telling the suspect to leave.
“I kind of just pushed him away and then sort of, casually, not casually but sort of quickly aimed the gun at him and shouted, ‘go away, or I’ll shoot! Get out of here! Go!’” he explained.
The suspect’s hesitation made Tsay realize the situation could become more dire.
“He was, contemplating for a moment like he wanted to take the gun away. He wanted to fight for it. He wanted to stake his life on it,” Tsay explained. “I realized I would have to shoot him if he tried it.”
The suspect then left the hall without his weapon.
Tsay said that he’d only had one chance to watch surveillance video footage since the attacks but still remembers what happened exactly. “Watching it, I remember the situation so clearly. Like, the feelings I had. The anxiety, the fear, but also the feeling of courage that came with that fear.”
Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said a “semi-automatic assault pistol” was recovered from the Alhambra dance hall and had an extended large-capacity magazine attached.
Tran died by suicide the next day during a police standoff, leaving behind questions of motive, officials said.
Tsay was not shot during the encounter, but he did sustain several bruises, one to his nose and another to the back of his head. Also, he says his back ached after the altercation, and now he struggles with sleeping.
“Sleep has been difficult. I’ve hardly had any sleep. And when I do get sleep, I wake up and just recall the situation that has happened to me,” he explained. “It keeps running into my mind. It’s very traumatic. I think I sometimes just shiver thinking about what could have been.”
This article was originally published on TODAY.com