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The 68-year old Las Vegas man accused of shooting up a California church planted explosive devices and extra ammo before locking doors with super-glue and opening fire in what police said was a “politically motivated” attack against Taiwanese people.
David W. Chou, a Chinese-born U.S. citizen, was nursing a decades-old grudge when he allegedly ambushed a lunch banquet hosted by the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church—killing a doctor who tried to stop him and wounding five others.
The mass shooting ended when church members tackled Chou, hog-tied him with an extension cord, and held him for police—who found a scene of utter chaos.
“You could tell that havoc had been wreaked in that space,” Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said at a Monday press conference.
Authorities said the gunman, who had no known connection to the Laguna Woods church, planned the attack in advance, rimming the church’s social hall with Molotov cocktail-like devices and planting bags of additional ammunition magazines.
After the morning’s services ended and the luncheon began, Chou started securing the exits with chains and attempted to disable the locks with super-glue, they said.
Chou was allegedly carrying two handguns—both 9mm caliber semiautomatic pistols he bought legally in Las Vegas—when he turned the banquet room into a shooting gallery.
Dr. John Cheng of Laguna Niguel, a sports medicine doctor who tried to take down the gunman, was killed in the Sunday attack at Geneva Presbyterian Church, where the Taiwanese church meets.
Spitzer and other officials praised the bravery of Dr. Cheng, who charged the suspect and attempted to disarm him. Cheng’s actions enabled the others to accost and hold the gunman until police arrived on the scene.
“He sacrificed himself so that others could live,” Spitzer said. “That irony in a church is not lost on me.”
— David González (@abc7DavidGonz) May 16, 2022
The five church members who were hurt, who ranged in age from 66 to 92, were taken to local hospitals. Two were in good condition and two were in stable condition Monday afternoon. Two of the wounded were a married couple in their mid-80s.
Chou, who worked as a security guard in Vegas, was booked on one felony count of murder and five felony counts of attempted murder, but the FBI has now opened a hate-crimes investigation since it appears he targeted Taiwanese victims.
The FBI is already weighing possible hate-crime charges in another mass shooting from the weekend—the racist rampage at a supermarket in a Black neighborhood of Buffalo, New York, that left 10 dead.
Chou emigrated from China many years ago and lived in numerous cities around the country, Orange County Undersheriff Jeff Hallock said at a press conference. He lived alone in Las Vegas; his wife and child reside in Taiwan.
Hallock said Chou had also lived in Taiwan in his youth as was “not well received,” which may have fueled his hatred of the country. Authorities were examining electronic materials and notes he left in his car to determine the exact motive.
The DA’s office and FBI were still contemplating whether the shooting could be charged as a hate crime. In addition to the counts of murder and attempted murder, Spitzer said he planned to file four counts of unlawful possession of explosives at an arraignment Tuesday. The charges can be punishable by life without parole or death.
Authorities said Chou was not a regular attendee at the church and were still working to determine why he chose this specific location. Yorba Linda Councilwoman Peggy Huang, who spoke to witnesses, told NBC Los Angeles that the suspect was a stranger to the crowd. Several attendees reportedly asked about his presence before he opened fire.
The banquet was in honor of a former Irvine Taiwanese pastor who was returning to Taiwan and there were about 30 to 40 people present.
Authorities said they believe more people would have been shot or killed if church members had not restrained the gunman. A pastor reportedly hit him on the head with a chair, and then others used an extension cord to wrap him up.
ABC7 obtained photographs of the moment congregants restrained Chou after he allegedly began shooting. The images show five parishioners restraining him as he lies face-down on the ground, as well as a small knife he allegedly brought with him to the shooting.
“It’s just amazing,” Huang told NBC. “You know, we called our grandparents ‘a-gong’ and ‘āmā,’ and these a-gongs and āmās in their seventies and eighties are just amazing, amazing people, to have that clear sense of mind to take this guy down.”