California Church Shooting Was ‘Politically Motivated Hate’ Crime: Sheriff

The suspected gunman who opened fire in a church in Orange County, California, on Sunday — killing one person and injuring five others — is a Chinese American man believed to have targeted the Taiwanese congregants in a “politically motivated hate incident,” per the Orange Country sheriff.

The suspect, 68-year-old David Chou, was a Chinese immigrant and U.S. citizen who “specifically targeted the Taiwanese community” when he traveled from Las Vegas to the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods and shot Taiwanese Presbyterian churchgoers during a luncheon, Sheriff Don Barnes said at a press conference Monday.

“Based on the information we’ve collected, it was a politically motivated hate incident,” Barnes said, adding that authorities believe the suspect was “upset about political tensions between China and Taiwan,” and targeted the parishioners based on their nationality.

On Sunday, about 50 members of the Taiwanese Presbyterian Church were having a lunch banquet when the suspect arrived, secured the church doors with chains, superglued the locks and began shooting at parishioners.

He killed Dr. John Cheng, 52, who leaves behind a wife and two kids, per the sheriff’s office. The five wounded were age 66 to 92.

Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes speaks about the shooting at the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods next to a photo of slain Dr. John Cheng, outside the Orange County Sheriffs Department on May 16.

Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes speaks about the shooting at the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods next to a photo of slain Dr. John Cheng, outside the Orange County Sheriffs Department on May 16.
MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images via Getty Images

Barnes said Cheng was a “hero” who charged the shooter before being shot dead. Others threw a chair at the shooter, then tied his legs with extension cords until law enforcement arrived. Deputies arrived within minutes and took the suspect into custody, the sheriff said.

The suspect was booked on one count of felony murder and five of attempted murder.

Law enforcement recovered two handguns at the scene and found several bags of ammo, as well as four Molotov cocktail-like devices the suspect placed inside the church.

The suspect had no known connection to the church, and had been living in the U.S. for years, most recently working as a security guard in Las Vegas.

The FBI has opened a federal hate crimes investigation into the shooter, a field office spokesperson said at Monday’s press conference.

“There’s just no place for hate in this country anymore, whether it’s racially based hate, religiously based, national origin,” Barnes said Monday. “This is a manifestation of the ugliest part of our humanity that exists in our country today.”

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