A gunman motivated by political hatred against Taiwan chained shut the doors of a California church and hid firebombs inside before shooting at a gathering of mostly elderly Taiwanese parishioners, killing a man who tackled him and possibly saved dozens of lives, authorities said Monday.
David Chou, 68, of Las Vegas — a U.S. citizen who authorities say grew up in Taiwan — drove to Orange County on Saturday. The next day, he attended a lunch held by Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, which worships at Geneva Presbyterian Church in the community of Laguna Woods. Though he knew no one there, he spent about an hour mingling with about 40 attendees and then executed his plot, authorities said at a news conference.
Authorities said Chou chained the doors and put super glue in the keyholes. He had two 9 mm handguns — legally purchased years ago in Las Vegas — and three bags, containing among other things four Molotov-cocktail-type incendiary devices and extra 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 wounded, the oldest 92. Sheriff Don Barnes called Cheng’s heroism “a meeting of good versus evil” that probably saved the lives “of upwards of dozens of people.”
Chou, who for years worked as a security guard, was booked on suspicion of murder and attempted murder and jailed on $1 million bail. He was expected to appear in state court Tuesday. It was not immediately clear whether he had an attorney who could speak on his behalf. A federal hate crimes investigation is also ongoing.
There was no immediate word on why Chou chose to target the church in Laguna Woods, a scenic and affluent coastal area whose population mainly consists of retirees.
Barnes said the motive for the shooting was Chou’s hatred toward Taiwan that was documented in handwritten notes that authorities found. Chou’s family apparently was among many forcibly removed from mainland China to Taiwan sometime after 1948, Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said.
Relations between mainlanders forced to flee a Communist takeover and native Taiwanese were frequently tense as the new arrivals crowded into slums and military communities. Separated by language and lifestyle, bullying and confrontation were frequent as President Chiang Kai-shek tightly restricted civil liberties under nearly four decades of martial law.
The Presbyterian Church is the most prominent of the Christian dominations in Taiwan and was closely identified with the pro-democracy movement during the martial law era and later with the Taiwan 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 he confirmed that Chou was born in Taiwan in 1953.
Barnes said Chou acted alone and was “not believed to be associated with any specific church or any religion, and there’s no direct connection to the church or any member of the church that we’re aware of,” Barnes said.
Balmore Orellana, a former neighbor, said Chou’s life unraveled after his wife left him last year. Before, Chou had been a pleasant man who used to own the Las Vegas apartment building where he lived until being evicted in February, Orellana told The Associated Press.
Records showed the four-unit property was sold last October for a little more than $500,000. Orellana said Chou’s wife used the money from the sale to move to Taiwan.