Authorities believe the suspect behind a deadly Sunday shooting at a church in California is a Chinese national who acted out of hate for the church’s Taiwanese congregation.
The Associated Press reported that at a Monday press conference, Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said the suspect, identified as David Chou, was a Chinese immigrant who acted out of a grievance against the Taiwanese community. The gunman killed 52-year-old congregant Dr. John Cheng and wounded five others during the shooting at the Geneva Presbyterian Church, where the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church meets.
Barnes said Chou, 68, of Las Vegas, Nevada, drove to the Orange County church where he was not a regular attendee. Barnes said the suspect fastened the church doors shut before he started shooting and brought four “Molotov Cocktail” incendiary devices with him during the attack.
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer also said there’s abundant evidence that the suspect “had an absolute bias against the Taiwanese people, its country, as a Chinese or mainland national.”
Though Taiwan governs itself as an independent nation, the Chinese government considers it a part of its territory and, in recent years, Chinese officials have frequently discussed reunifying with the island.
Barnes indicated one piece of evidence suggesting the gunman’s alleged anti-Taiwanese views, a letter left in his vehicle describing “his hatred of the Taiwanese people.”
The shooting attack on the Taiwanese congregation came a day after a gunman who allegedly posted a manifesto detailing white supremacist motives, attacked a grocery store in a predominantly black area of Buffalo, New York, killing 10 people.
Congregant and witness Jerry Chen told the Associated Press about 40 churchgoers had gathered in a fellowship hall for a luncheon to welcome their former Pastor Billy Chang, who had served their church for 20 years before moving to Taiwan two years ago.
Chen said the people at the church were mostly retirees and were an average of 80-years-old.
Laguna Woods, the city where the attack took place, was originally built as a retirement community and more than 80 percent of the city’s approximately 18,000 residents are 65-years-old or older. The Geneva Presbyterian Church is located in an area near other churches, including Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist and Jewish congregations.
The gunman staged the attack as congregants had returned from their lunch break.
Barnes said Cheng heroically charged the gunman and attempted to disarm him before he was fatally shot.
Spitzer said that upon realizing the congregants couldn’t escape, Cheng “took it upon himself to charge across the room and to do everything he could to disable the assailant.”
Other congregants also helped to subdue the gunman. A pastor hit the gunman on the head with a chair and others helped tie him up with electrical chords.
Chou is reportedly being held on a $1 million bail. It is not yet clear if he has a lawyer representing him.