- The Washington Times - Monday, May 16, 2022

Authorities said Monday that the deadly California church shooting is being investigated as a hate crime fueled by the suspect’s reported anti-Taiwan animus.

Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said at a press conference that based on information gathered so far, the Sunday attack was “a politically motivated hate incident, a grievance that this individual had between himself and the Taiwanese community at large.”

The suspect, 68-year-old David Chou, is a naturalized U.S. citizen who emigrated from China. He was being held in lieu of $1 million bail after being booked on one felony count of murder and five felony counts of attempted murder.

“Based on preliminary information in the investigation, it is believed the suspect involved was upset about political tensions between China and Taiwan,” said Sheriff Barnes.

China claims Taiwan is a part of its national territory and has not ruled out force to bring the island under its rule.

FBI Los Angeles assistant director in charge Kristi Johnson said the bureau has opened a federal hate crimes investigation, citing “evidence that the individual was motivated by some type of hate,” and that any federal charges would come in addition to local charges.

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The suspect was taken into custody, authorities said, after he opened fire on parishioners from the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church during a lunch banquet Sunday in Laguna Woods.

An arraignment is scheduled for Tuesday.

The suspect has no known ties to the church, which has held services at the Geneva Presbyterian Church building since 2009.

The sheriff said that Mr. Chou drove Saturday from his home in Las Vegas, where he lived alone, to the congregation, which was celebrating the return of the pastor from a mission trip to Taiwan.

The suspect locked the doors with chains and tried to disable the locks on the banquet room with super glue before opening fire on the group of about 50 congregants, who ranged in age from 66 to 92, officials said.

Dr. John Cheng, 52, of Laguna Niguel, was killed in the shooting. Sheriff Barnes praised Dr. Cheng for his “heroic actions” in confronting the gunman

“I want to pause and just tell you that Dr. Cheng is a hero in this incident,” said Sheriff Barnes. “Based on statements from the witnesses and corroborated by other means, it is known that Dr. Cheng charged the individual, the suspect, [and] attempted to disarm him, which allowed other parishioners to then intercede, taking the suspect into custody.”

As he tackled the suspect, Dr. Cheng was hit by gunshots and pronounced dead at the scene.

“Without the actions of Dr. Cheng, it is no doubt that there would be numerous additional victims in this crime,” said the sheriff.

Mike Contreras, division chief with the Orange County Fire Authority, said that two of those injured are in good condition and two are in stable condition.

Authorities confiscated two handguns at the scene.

They later found several bags containing ammunition magazines and “four Molotov cocktail-like incendiary devices” that were placed inside of the church, said the sheriff.

The suspect had lived in the United States for “many years” and lived in different states, including Texas. He worked security jobs, and has no known affiliation with any church or religion, the sheriff said.

The sheriff’s department has issued numerous search warrants, including on the suspect’s home in Las Vegas and his car.

Dr. Cheng is survived by a wife and two children.

“He took it upon himself to charge across the room and do everything he could to disable the assailant,” said Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer. “He sacrificed himself so that others could live.”

Mr. Spitzer said that prosecutors are weighing whether to seek the death penalty as well as a hate crime enhancement.

He agreed the evidence so far shows the suspect had “an absolute bias against the Taiwanese people, its country, as a Chinese or mainland national,” but would wait to make a decision after the investigation is concluded.

“I will tell you that evil was in that church yesterday,” Mr. Spitzer said.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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