California church shooting suspect motivated by Taiwan-China conflict: Police

The Orange County Sheriff's Office said it had arrested 68-year-old David Chou.

May 16, 2022, 10:14 PM

The deadly shooting at a church in Laguna Woods, California, on Sunday, was motivated by the political tension between China and Taiwan, authorities said Monday.

One person was killed and five were wounded, four critically, in the shooting inside the Geneva Presbyterian Church, the Orange County Sheriff's Office.

All victims are adults and range in age from 66 to 92 years old, the sheriff's office said.

A group of churchgoers detained the suspect and hogtied his legs with an extension cord and confiscated two handguns from him before more people could be shot, according to Jeff Hallock, Undersheriff at the Orange County Sheriff's Office.

Hector Gomez, left, and Jordi Poblete, worship leaders at the Mariners Church Irvine, leave flowers outside the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, Calif., Sunday, May 15, 2022, after a fatal shooting.
Damian Dovarganes/AP

"That group of churchgoers displayed what we believed exceptional heroism, heroism and bravery in interfering or intervening to stop the suspect," Hallock said.

The two victims taken to Providence Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, California, are now in good condition, the hospital said Monday.

The suspect was identified Monday in Orange County jail records as 68-year-old Las Vegas resident David Chou. He is expected to be charged with one count of murder and five counts of attempted murder and is being held on $1 million bail, jail records show.

The suspect secured the doors and tried to super glue the locks so victims could not leave, Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said Monday. Law enforcement found more ammunition and Molotov cocktails placed around the church.

Police and emergency services respond to reports of a shooting at a church on the 24000 block of El Toro Road in Laguna Woods, Calif., May 15, 2022.
Alana Geiger

The FBI has opened a federal hate crimes investigation into the shooting.

Chou is Chinese but an American citizen, officials said. He lived alone in Las Vegas and has a wife and child who are not living in the U.S.

Authorities believe Chou's anger began when he lived in Taiwan, where he felt he was an outsider, and his anti-Taiwan views were not accepted, Barnes said.

Chou's wife and son still live in Taiwan, but Chou has lived alone in the U.S. for many years, Barnes said, adding that Chou's views have become more radical as tensions between China and Taiwan have escalated.

Investigators found writings in Chou's car that described his hatred for Taiwan, Barnes said, adding that they were not a manifesto, but rather "notes." Authorities hypothesize that Chou may have targeted the Orange County church because it was the closest, Barnes said.

The shooting occurred during a lunch banquet being held at the church, which caters to the Taiwanese population in Southern California.

The Rev. Bill Chang said in a statement Monday: "Thank you for your concern and continued prayers. While my return to the United States, worship at the church and luncheon was [a] joyous occasion, the events that followed have deeply impacted the community and me."

Chang said he was "on the podium taking photos and witnessed the gunman randomly fire his gun at congregants."

"I was in shock during these events and about 10-15 steps away from him. When he lowered his gun after several shots, I rushed down the platform and picked up a chair and threw it at the gunman. The gunman fell to the floor at this time and [an] additional congregant courageously came to help restrain him while others called 911."

"The Presbytery of Los Ranchos is deeply saddened by a fatal shooting that occurred at a lunch reception honoring a former pastor of the Taiwanese congregation that nests at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods," Tom Cramer, Presbytery head of staff, said in a statement Sunday. "Please keep the leadership of the Taiwanese congregation and Geneva in your prayers as they care for those traumatized by this shooting."

China has long held that Taiwan is part of its country, while Taiwan governs itself as an independent nation dating back to when Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek fled the mainland as the Chinese Communist Party came to power in 1949.

A police car is seen after a deadly shooting at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, Calif., May 15, 2022.
David Swanson/Reuters

The shooting was reported at about 1:26 p.m. local time, authorities said.

There were 30 to 40 people inside the church when the shooting began, officials said.

Dr. John Cheng, 52, a prominent doctor in the area, was identified as the only person killed in the attack. He is being called a hero for saving lives. He charged the suspect and tried to disarm him allowing others to jump in, Barnes said. During the process, Cheng was shot and killed. Without his actions, the sheriff and FBI believes there would have been more people shot.

The two handguns found at the scene were legally purchased by Chou in Las Vegas, investigators said.

ABC News' Alex Stone contributed to this report.

Related Topics