- David Chou, 68, of Las Vegas, was being held on a $1 million bail, according to online court records.
- Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said the shooting was a “politically motivated hate incident.”
- Dr. John Cheng, 52, who was killed, was honored for his actions in trying to stop the gunman.
Murder and attempted murder charges were filed Tuesday in California against a man who officials say opened fire on Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church members, an attack federal authorities are investigating as a hate crime.
David Chou, 68, of Las Vegas, was armed with handguns and Molotov cocktails in the shooting, authorities say. Churchgoers subdued and hogtied him at the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods on Sunday after he fatally shot one congregant and wounded five others gathering for an afternoon luncheon, officials in Orange County said Monday.
Dr. John Cheng, 52, was killed in the attack when he charged the gunman and tried to disarm him, authorities said.
Chou was booked on murder and attempted murder charges in what Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes on Monday called a “politically motivated hate incident.”
A federal hate crime investigation was opened, said Kristi Johnson, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office. The suspect allegedly targeted the church, which was hosting the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church congregation, because of political grievances on tensions between China and Taiwan, Barnes said.
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said Tuesday that his office is charging Chou with 10 different counts, including first degree murder with enhancements of lying in wait and for personal use of a firearm; five counts of attempted murder with premeditation and deliberation; and four counts of possession of four destructive devices with the intent to kill or to harm.
Chou was being held on a $1 million bail, according to online court records. It was unclear whether he had an attorney to speak on his behalf.
Spitzer said the “lying in wait” enhancement on the murder charge, which upgrades a possibility penalty to life without parole or the death penalty, comes as a result of Chou intentionally attempting to conceal himself within the congregation before the shooting.
“He did everything he could to fit in, to make himself one of them,” Spitzer said. “We typically think of the person who hides in the bushes … This case is about the person concealing themselves in plain view.”
Spitzer has not yet applied a hate crime enhancement to the charges, and the FBI’s hate crime investigation is still open.
“While there is very strong evidence right now that this was motivated by hate, we want to make sure we have put together all the evidence that confirms that theory of the case,” Spitzer said.
‘A meeting of good versus evil’
Barnes called Cheng’s heroism in attempting to stop the gunman “a meeting of good versus evil.” About 50 people were inside the church for a luncheon after morning services when the shooting began, authorities said.
“The majority of the people in attendance were elderly, and they acted spontaneously, heroically,” Barnes said Monday. “If not for their quick action, the way that this individual set up that environment to kill many more people, there would have been many, many more lives lost if not for the concerted effort of the members of that church.”
After the gunman had arrived at the church, he tried to secure the doors with chains, nails and superglue before opening fire, police said. The gunman was armed with two pistols he legally purchased in Nevada, and police found several bags with magazines of ammunition and Molotov cocktails in the church, Barnes said.
Cheng charged the gunman, which allowed others to intervene to stop the shooting. A pastor hit the gunman on the head with a chair and parishioners hogtied him with electrical cords. He was still hogtied when police arrived.
Barnes said Cheng’s action probably saved the lives “of upwards of dozens of people.”
Cheng was pronounced dead on the scene. Four men between ages 66 and 92 and an 86-year-old woman were injured in the shooting.
‘EXCEPTIONAL HEROISM’:California churchgoers stopped rampage, hogtied suspect after deadly shooting
A husband and father of two, Cheng had a growing memorial in his honor outside his medical practice in nearby Aliso Viejo.
“They’re devastated,” South Coast Medical Group Executive Director Johanna Gherardini awning KABC-TV of Cheng’s family. “He was their man.”
Gherardini told the TV station Cheng practiced martial arts and was an advocate for people learning self-defense. “He was a protector and that’s exactly what he did,” Gherardini added.
A biography page for Cheng on his practice’s website says his father was also a physician. He grew up in a small town in Texas and studied at Texas Tech School of Medicine before his residency at the University of California at Los Angeles.
“It is rare to find a family doctor so well able to give quality care in such a wide variety of situations and arenas. His commitment to care conventionally and holistically for his patient’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs continues to delight his new patients and long-term patients alike,” the biography page says.
‘Isolated incident’ was fueled by hatred, sheriff says
The suspect harbored grievances against Taiwan and targeted the church in an “isolated incident,” Barnes said. Authorities said it was unclear why Chou, who had been living in Nevada, targeted that specific church, and that he did not have any known ties with the church or its congregants.
Barnes said Chou was a Chinese immigrant who had been living the United States “for many years,” but Louis Huang, director-general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Los Angeles, told Taiwan’s Central News Agency that his office obtained information showing Chou was born in Taiwan in 1953.
Spitzer said Chou’s family apparently was among many forcibly removed from China to Taiwan sometime after 1948.
Barnes said investigators found handwritten notes in Chou’s car supporting their belief that hatred of Taiwan fueled the attack. “I believe his hatred of Taiwan manifested when he was residing there in previous years, possibly in his youth,” Barnes added.
Tensions between China, Taiwan highest in decades
Tensions between China and Taiwan are at the highest in decades, with Beijing stepping up its military presence by flying fighter jets toward the self-governing island. China has not ruled out force to reunify with Taiwan, which split from the mainland during a civil war in 1949.
Taiwan’s chief representative in the US, Bi-khim Hsiao, said she was “shocked and saddened” by the shooting. “I join the families of the victims and Taiwanese American communities in grief and pray for the speedy recovery of the wounded survivors,” she tweeted Sunday.
Chinese Embassy spokesperson Liu Pengyu said the Chinese government has “consistently condemned incidents of violence. We express our condolences to the victims and sincere sympathy to the bereaved families and the injured.”
Jerry Chen, 72, who was at the church Sunday, told The Associated Press the luncheon was being held for former Pastor Billy Chang. Chang had served the church for more than 20 years but moved back to Taiwan, and this visit was his first time back, Chen said.
Contributing: The Associated Press
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism