Authorities: Hate against Taiwanese led to church attack


A Chinese gunman motivated by hatred against Taiwan chained the doors of a California church and hid firebombs before shooting into a gathering of mostly elderly Taiwanese parishioners, killing a man who tackled him, possibly saving dozens of lives, authorities said Monday.

David Chou, 68, of Las Vegas, traveled to Orange County on Saturday and the next day attended a luncheon hosted by the Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in Irvine, which worships at the Presbyterian Church in Geneva in the community of Laguna Woods. Although he didn’t know anyone there, he spent about an hour mingling with about 40 attendees and then carried out his plot, authorities said at a news conference.

He chained the doors and put super glue in the locks. He had two 9mm handguns – bought legally years ago in Las Vegas – and three bags, containing among other things four Molotov cocktail-type incendiary devices and additional ammunition. He opened fire and in the ensuing chaos Dr John Cheng, 52, tackled him, allowing other parishioners to subdue him and tie him up with extension cords.

Cheng died and five people were injured, the oldest being 92 years old. 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 arrested on suspicion of murder and attempted murder and jailed on $1 million bail. He was scheduled to appear in state court on Tuesday. It was not immediately clear if he had an attorney who could speak on his behalf. A federal hate crimes investigation is also underway.

Chou had worked as a security guard in Las Vegas, authorities said.

It was not immediately clear why Chou chose to target the church in Laguna Woods, a scenic coastal area populated mostly by retirees and near a large gated community.

Barnes said the motive for the shooting was a grievance between the shooter, who he says was born in China and is a US citizen, and the Taiwanese community. China claims that Taiwan is part of its national territory and has not ruled out force to submit the island to its rule.

Barnes said Chou acted alone and was not a church regular.

“He is not believed to be associated with any specific church or religion, and there is no direct connection to the church or any church member that we know of,” Barnes said.

A former neighbor said Chou’s life fell apart after his wife left him. Chou was a nice guy who owned the Las Vegas apartment building where he lived until February, Balmore Orellana told The Associated Press. Records show the four-unit property sold last October for just over $500,000.

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 sanity has declined and last summer a gun was fired inside Chou’s apartment and the bullet entered Orellana’s apartment, although no one had been injured, Orellana said.

Police reports of the assault and shooting were not immediately available Monday.

Chou’s family was apparently among many forcibly deported from China to Taiwan shortly after 1948, Orange District Attorney Todd Spitzer said. Chou’s hatred of the island, documented in handwritten notes found by authorities, appears to have begun when he felt he was not being treated well while living there.

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 has not ruled out the force to reunite with Taiwan, which broke away from the mainland in a civil war in 1949.

Taiwan’s Chief Representative to the United States, Bi-khim Hsiao, offered his condolences to the families on Twitter.

“I join the families of the victims and the grieving Taiwanese American communities and pray for the speedy recovery of the injured survivors,” Hsiao wrote on Sunday.

Chinese embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu told the AP by email that the Chinese government has “constantly condemned incidents of violence. We express our condolences to the victims and our sincere condolences to the bereaved families and the injured.

At the church in California, the shooting erupted as Jerry Chen had just walked into the kitchen of the church’s fellowship hall around 1:30 p.m. Sunday.

Chen, 72, a longtime member of the Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in Irvine, peeked around the corner and saw others screaming, running and hiding under tables.

“I knew someone was shooting,” he said. “I was very, very scared. I ran out the kitchen door to call 911.”

Samuel Nganga, a member from Geneva and caretaker of the church, said he was starting to clean up in the kitchen when he heard the gunshots. He and others crawled on their hands and knees to escape.

Among the gunshot wounds are four men, ages 66, 75, 82 and 92, and an 86-year-old woman, the sheriff’s department said. Four were shot and injured. Authorities said Monday that two of the injured were in good condition, two were in stable condition and the status of the fifth patient was undetermined.

Chen said a group of about 40 congregants gathered in the communion hall for lunch after a morning service to welcome their former pastor Billy Chang, a beloved and respected community member who had served. the church for 20 years. Chang returned to Taiwan two years ago. It was his first time returning to the United States, Chen said.

Everyone had just finished lunch and were taking photos with Chang when Chen entered the kitchen, he said. It was then that he heard the gunshots.

Barnes said Cheng, a sports medicine doctor who is survived by a wife and two children, blamed the shooter and tried to disarm him, allowing others to intervene. Chang hit the shooter in the head with a chair before other parishioners overpowered him.

“I’ll tell you the evil was in that church,” Spitzer said, adding that Chou was “absolutely biased” against Taiwan and its people.

The shooting came a day after an 18-year-old man shot and killed 10 people in a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, in a racist rampage where the white shooter allegedly targeted a supermarket in a predominantly black neighborhood.

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This story has been corrected to show that Pastor Billy Chang has not retired.

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Ritter reported from Las Vegas. Bharat reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press reporters Stefanie Dazio and John Antczak in Los Angeles and Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington contributed to this story. News researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed from New York.

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Associated Press religious coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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