By Mitch Lehman
San Marino Tribune
One of the people closest to San Marino’s very own hometown hero, Brandon Tsay, has said she is not surprised by the San Marino High School graduate’s selfless act that may have saved countless lives after a mass shooting took place in Monterey Park on Lunar New Year’s Eve.
“It doesn’t surprise me that he would put himself in danger to save other people,” said his sister, Brenda Tsay, who graduated from SMHS in 2016. “The fact that he stopped to fight, it’s not out of any aggressiveness … he is just a caring person.”
Tsay was faced with a tragic “fight or flight” moment on Jan. 21 as he was working at his family-owned Lai Lai Ballroom & Studio dance hall in Alhambra. He confronted a gunman who had just entered the lobby, wrestled the weapon away and chased him out of the establishment. Unbeknownst to Tsay at the time, the gunman, Huu Can Tran, had just killed 10 people and wounded 10 others at nearby Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park. Another victim later succumbed to her injuries at the hospital.
The 26-year-old Tsay then spent hours aiding officials in identifying and finding the suspect, who was found dead with a self-inflicted gun wound.
None of this surprises Tsay’s sister, Brenda, who said her brother had never held a gun before and has always been known as a gentle person.
“He literally moves bugs outdoors and will not kill them. … I don’t think he has it in him to kill anybody or anything,” she said. “But I am not at all surprised that he would go out of his way to save people, especially if they are elderly.”
Since the tragedy unfolded, Tsay has been heralded for his bravery in the media and by public officials across the nation.
Last week, Tsay was a guest of none other than President Joe Biden as he delivered the State of the Union Address. He found himself sitting next to U2’s rockstar Bono, who was a guest due to his activism for HIV and AIDS.
The entire experience seemed surreal to Tsay, who ate a chicken pot pie. The event left him feeling “impressed.”
“It’s like I am an average dude and there I was sitting next to Bono,” Tsay said. “Never in my life did I think I would be sitting next to Bono.”
Brenda Tsay added: “It was a night with many ‘I never thought I would be’s …’” for her brother.
During his speech, Biden retold a story of how Tsay cut his education short while he took care of his mother, Yvonne Lin, as she battled cancer.
“My mother tried treatment in America, but it was a very aggressive form of cancer,” Brenda Tsay said.
Their mother faced a dire diagnosis but fought valiantly, with the help of her son by her side. Tsay dropped his courses at Pasadena City College to dedicate care to her. Together, they sought treatment in Taiwan and then Tokyo for experimental stem cell treatment. Yvonne passed away in December of 2017.
Now, Tsay is reluctant to embrace his new-found fame. He has spoken at multiple public engagements admitting that he is struggling with grief and pain after the mass shooting, which has reverberated among people he has known closely his entire life. He shoulders guilt at being heralded a hero when so many lives were senselessly lost.
But perhaps his most recent experience at the White House will help him find new purpose. Tsay said he found great meaning in spending time with the family of Tyre Nichols, who were also guests of the Bidens. Nichols was killed during a traffic stop by Memphis police officers on Jan. 7.
He also spent a lot of time with Congresswoman Judy Chu, who represents San Marino and the 28th District.
“He got to meet a lot of people,” Brenda Tsay said. “He has been to Washington before but never like that.”