The smell of perfumed smoke turned my head Tuesday morning outside the Monterey Park dance club where 11 people were gunned down Saturday night. A man named Scott, seated in a wheelchair, was lighting incense sticks to honor the dead.

A woman pays her respects Tuesday at a makeshift memorial for victims of Saturday’s mass shooting outside the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, Calif. The 72-year-old man responsible for the massacre – who is believed to have taken his own life – lived alone, according to news accounts. Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS

“What else can we do?” asked Scott, 57, who requested that I not use his last name. He told me he’s Chinese, he was born in Vietnam, and he was disabled years ago by a stroke.

Even before all the wreaths were laid in Monterey Park, the same question was being asked in Half Moon Bay, where seven people were gunned down.

Few details about that shooter were immediately available. But we know that the 72-year-old responsible for the Monterey Park massacre – who is believed to have taken his own life – lived alone in Hemet, according to news accounts. He is the oldest mass murderer in recent history, and his victims were in their 50s, 60s and 70s. The Los Angeles Times described him as a divorced, lonely and embittered man.

Whatever might have motivated him, I wondered if isolation was a factor. We’re told that he was a dance instructor, so he wasn’t totally disengaged. But isolation can be an emotional as well as a physical state.

“I see a lot of people wandering around here alone,” Scott said. “It’s how they live their lives.”


There are plenty of communal activities available to older residents of Monterey Park, said Derek Ma, founding president and chair of the Chinese American Community Affairs Council. “But a lot of people are alone because their husband or wife passes away,” Ma said, and the stress of feeling cut off from people and purpose, he added, can have tragic consequences.

Isolation is no small matter in the rapidly aging population, and the depression that results often goes undiagnosed and untreated. Even if they are not financially destitute, a lot of people feel disconnected, alone and scared. Readers have filled my mail bag with detailed, sometimes heartbreaking accounts of their struggles.

“I have to work hard to have a social network going throughout the week,” wrote Judy, 79, of Torrance. When she feels up for it, Judy goes to church and the grocery store and chats with neighbors while dog walking. “But when I have a week of sickness and cannot do those things, I see nobody. Life is very difficult when that happens.”

“My life is so small now,” said Marilyn, 77, who lives south of San Francisco. “I still drive. But the pandemic’s ongoing psychological toll is immense. I don’t expect this isolation will change in my lifetime.”

Deanna, a retiree living in Oregon, said that making friends has been much harder than she anticipated. “The isolation and loneliness really get to me … I try to find contentment and joy each day, but still I think about dying. I don’t look forward to more surgeries and recoveries.”

I could go on, and I haven’t yet worked through the more than 2,000 emails I’ve gotten from readers since asking them to share the pros and cons of aging. Many of them are prospering, but there are enough people struggling, in one way or another, to fill a book.


If indeed a sense of otherness or isolation motivated the shooter in Monterey Park, it’s all the more painful to note that his victims were fully engaged members of the community, all of them participating in innocent, healthy activity.

After I visited the site of the shooting, I headed out to the Montebello Senior Center, a warm, welcoming oasis from the lingering shock of unspeakable violence. Four dozen people played bingo in one room while another two dozen people paced through a line-dancing class.

At the height of the pandemic, senior centers had to close their doors, but, like Montebello, they switched to virtual classes and checked in on their most vulnerable clients – the ones living alone and known to have trouble paying their bills and buying groceries.

When the bingo game ended, Maria Limas told me she lost her husband in 2021 and sank in despair before connecting with the senior center. Lucia Alcaraz, another bingo player, told me she lost her husband 10 years ago and it took a while, but she’s now achieved a full sense of engagement and purpose at the senior center. Alcaraz said she raised her hand at a club meeting following the Monterey Park shooting and suggested that everyone be more vigilant about who’s struggling, troubled and alone.

That’s a long list, and it now includes the survivors of yet more victims of senseless violence.

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