LAGUNA WOODS, Calif. (AP) — A gunman motivated by hatred of Taiwan closed the doors of a California church and hid incendiary bombs before firing at a gathering of mostly elderly Taiwanese parishionerskilling a man who tackled him, authorities said.
David Chou, 68, of Las Vegas — an American citizen who, according to authorities, grew up in Taiwan — drove to Orange County on Saturday and attended a luncheon the following day held by the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, who worships at the Presbyterian Church of Geneva in the community of Laguna Forests. Though he didn’t know anyone there, he spent about an hour with about 40 in attendance and then carried out his plot, authorities said at a news conference.
He tied up the doors and put super glue in the keyholes. He had two 9mm handguns — bought legally in Las Vegas years ago — and three bags, which included four Molotov cocktail-style incendiary bombs and extra ammunition. He opened fire and in the ensuing chaos, Dr. John Cheng, 52, him, allowing other parishioners to restrain him and tie him up with extension cords.
Cheng died and five people were injured, the oldest 92. Sheriff Don Barnes called Cheng’s heroism “a meeting of good versus evil” that likely saved the lives of “more than dozens of people”.
Chou was booked on suspicion of murder and attempted murder and jailed on $1 million bail. He was due to appear in court on Tuesday. It was not immediately clear whether he had a lawyer who could speak on his behalf. A federal investigation into hate crimes is also underway.
Chou had worked as a security guard in Las Vegas, authorities said.
It was not immediately known why Chou chose to focus on the church in Laguna Woods, a scenic coastal area with a mostly retiree population and near a large gated community.
Barnes said the motive for the shooting was Chou’s hatred of Taiwan, which was documented in handwritten notes that authorities found. Chou’s family was apparently one of many who were forcibly removed from mainland China to Taiwan sometime after 1948, said Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer.
Relations between mainlanders fleeing a communist takeover and indigenous Taiwanese were often tense as the newcomers crowded into slums and military communities. Separated by language and lifestyle, bullying and confrontation were common as President Chiang Kai-shek severely restricted civil liberties under nearly four decades of martial law.
The Presbyterian Church is the most prominent of the Christian rule in Taiwan and was closely associated with the pro-democracy movement during the martial law era and later with Taiwan’s independence cause.
Barnes referred to Chou as an immigrant from China, but Taiwan’s Central News Agency says it interviewed Louis M. Huang, director-general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Los Angeles, and confirmed that Chou was in 1953 in Taiwan was born.
Barnes said Chou was acting alone and “was not believed to be associated with any specific church or religion, and there is no direct connection to the church or any member of the church that we are aware of.”
Balmore Orellana, a former neighbor, said Chou’s life was unraveled after his wife left him last year. Before that, Chou had been a nice man who owned the Las Vegas apartment building where he lived until he was evicted in February, Orellana told The Associated Press.
Records show that the four-family property sold for just over $500,000 last October. Orellana said Chou’s wife used the money from the sale to move to Taiwan.
Before Orellana moved in about five years ago, Chou suffered a head injury and other serious injuries in an attack by a tenant, the neighbor said. More recently, his mental health deteriorated and last summer a gun was fired at Chou’s apartment and the bullet entered Orellana’s apartment, although no one was injured, Orellana said.
Police reports about the assault and shooting were not immediately available Monday.
Tensions between China and Taiwan are at their highest in decades, with Beijing stepping up its military harassment by flying fighter jets to the self-governing island. China is not ruling out violence to reunite with Taiwan, which split from the mainland during a civil war in 1949.
Taiwan’s chief representative in the US, Bi-khim Hsiao, expressed his condolences to the shooting families on Twitter.
“I join the families of the victims and the Taiwanese American communities in the grief and pray for a speedy recovery of the injured survivors,” Hsiao wrote on Sunday.
Chinese embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu told the AP via email that the Chinese government has “consistently condemned incidents of violence. We extend our condolences to the victims and our sincere condolences to the bereaved families and the injured.”
Among those injured by gunfire were an 86-year-old woman and four men, ages 66, 75, 82 and 92, the sheriff said. Authorities said on Monday that two of the injured were in good condition, two in stable condition and the status of the fifth patient was undetermined.
Jerry Chen, a longtime member of the Church, said a group of about 40 congregation members had gathered in the community hall for lunch after a morning service to welcome their former Pastor Billy Chang, a beloved and respected member of the community who served the Church. had served for 20 years. Chang moved back to Taiwan two years ago. This was his first time back in the state, Chen said.
Everyone had just finished lunch and was taking pictures with Chang when Chen went to the kitchen. That’s when he heard the shots.
Barnes said Cheng, a sports medicine doctor who is survived by a woman and two children, attacked the gunman and tried to disarm him so others could intervene. Chang hit the gunman on the head with a chair before other parishioners subdued him.
“I’ll tell you there was evil in that church,” Spitzer said, adding that Chou had “an absolute bias” against Taiwan and its people.
The shooting happened a day after an 18-year-old man shot 10 people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New Yorkin a racist outburst in which the white gunman allegedly attacked a supermarket in a predominantly black neighborhood.
Associated Press journalists John Antczak in Los Angeles, Ken Ritter in Las Vegas and Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington contributed to this story. News Researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed from New York.
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