TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The Orange County Police Sheriff's department on Monday (May 16) announced that a preliminary investigation has found that the deadly shooting at a Taiwanese congregation in Laguna Woods was a "politically motivated hate incident."
During a Monday press conference, Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes identified the lone gunman as David Wenwei Chou (周文偉), 68, of Las Vegas. Barnes said that based on information collected, the shooting "was a politically motivated hate incident, a grievance that this individual had between himself and the Taiwanese community at large,” and added that “It is believed the suspect involved was upset about political tensions between China and Taiwan.”
Barnes said that Chou is a U.S. citizen who immigrated "from China" many years ago. The department believes that Chou acted alone and was not a regular visitor to the church.
He stated that notes found in Chou's vehicle written in Mandarin indicated his "hatred of the Taiwanese people" and his beliefs that Taiwan should not be an independent nation. Barns asserted that Chou became embittered while living in Taiwan in his youth when he was "not well-received."
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer stated that Chou's family had apparently been forcibly removed from China to Taiwan at some point after 1948. Spitzer said that there is "a lot of evidence" pointing to Chou having an "absolute bias against the Taiwanese people, its country, as a Chinese or Mainland national."
Chou is facing one count of murder and five counts of attempted murder and is being held on US$1 million bail. Spitzer said Chou is eligible for a sentence of life without the possibility of parole or death.
Just prior to the shooting, members of the Irvine Taiwan Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods were holding a lunch banquet in a hall after a service with 30 to 40 people in attendance. The gathering was held to honor long-term pastor Billy Chang who had left for Taiwan in 2020 to head a congregation.
Chou reportedly interacted with parishioners and speaking with them in Taiwanese for up to two hours. As the lunch was winding down Chou was seen chaining and nailing exit doors shut.
He then suddenly began opening fire on Taiwanese congregation members. John Cheng, 52, a doctor who specialized in sports medicine quickly charged Chou from across the room and tackled him.
The assailant fired on Cheng and as he attempted to fix a jam with his weapon, the pastor hurled a chair at his head. This knocked Chou off balance and provided an opening for other parishioners to rush forward, pin him to the ground, and hogtie his legs with an electrical extension cord.
Cheng, who was shot several times, succumbed to his wounds at the scene of the shooting, leaving behind a wife and two children. Five other people also suffered wounds including four men aged 66, 75, 82, and 92, while one 86-year-old woman was also wounded.
Barns praised Cheng, who also served as a martial arts instructor, as "a hero in this incident." He noted that "Without the actions of Dr. Cheng, there is no doubt there’d be numerous victims in this crime.”
Officers recovered two 9 mm semiautomatic pistols, which had been legally purchased in Las Vegas in 2015 and 2017. They also discovered four Molotov cocktail-like incendiary devices that had been placed inside the church.
The Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Los Angeles on Tuesday (May 17) clarified to CNA that contrary to reports from U.S. officials that Chou was born in China, he was actually born in Taiwan in 1953. The office pointed out that in the past, holders of Taiwan passports with parents from China, often listed "China" as their birthplace on official documents when immigrating to the U.S. and this may have been the case with Chou.