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Authorities: Hate against Taiwanese led to church attack

by The Associated Press | May 17, 2022 at 5:00 a.m.
Hector Gomez, left, and Jordi Poblete, worship leaders at the Mariners Church Irvine, leave flowers outside the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, Calif., Sunday, May 15, 2022, after a fatal shooting. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

The Associated Press

LAGUNA WOODS, Calif. -- A gunman in deadly attack at California church was Chinese immigrant motivated by hate for Taiwanese people, authorities said.

The shooting killed John Cheng and five others were wounded in an attack at a Southern California church, authorities said at a Monday news conference.

Worshippers detained the gunman Sunday by hog-tying his legs with an electrical cord until authorities arrived, according to authorities.

Congregant Jerry Chen said he saw church members screaming, running and ducking under tables. Officials did not immediately disclose a motive for the shooting at the Geneva Presbyterian Church in the city of Laguna Woods.

The Orange County Sheriff's Department tweeted that David Chou, 68, of Las Vegas has been booked on one count of murder and five counts of attempted murder.

Jerry Chen had just stepped into the kitchen of the church's fellowship hall around 1:30 p.m. Sunday when he heard the gunshots.

Chen, 72, a longtime member of the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, which worships at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, peeked around the corner and saw others screaming, running and ducking under tables.

"I knew someone was shooting," he said. "I was very, very scared. I ran out the kitchen door to call 911. "

Officials said the shooting ended after the gunman killed one man and wounded five older people before worshippers hog-tied his legs with an electrical cord until deputies arrived. Four of the five people wounded suffered critical gunshot injuries; their conditions were not immediately available Monday morning.

David Chou, 68, of Las Vegas has been booked on one count of murder and five counts of attempted murder, the Orange County Sheriff's Department tweeted. Jail records show Chou is being held on $1 million bail. It's not immediately known whether he has a lawyer who can speak on his behalf.

The church was cordoned off Monday with yellow police tape and several bouquets of flowers were left outside the church grounds.

But on Sunday afternoon, Chen said he was in such a state of shock that he was unable to tell the operator his location when he called 911 from the church's parking lot.

"I had to ask someone else for the address," he said.

Chen said a group of about 40 congregants had gathered in the fellowship hall for a luncheon after a morning service to welcome their former Pastor Billy Chang, a beloved and respected community member who had served the church for 20 years. Chang moved back to Taiwan two years ago. This was his first time back stateside, Chen said.

"Everyone had just finished lunch," he said. "They were taking photos with Pastor Chang. I had just finished my lunch and went into the kitchen."

That was when he heard the gunshots and ran out.

Soon afterward, Chen said he heard the details of what happened inside from others who came out. Fellow congregants told Chen that when the gunman stopped to reload, Chang hit him on the head with a chair while others moved quickly to grab his gun. They then subdued him and tied him up, Chen said.

"It was amazing how brave (Chang) and the others were," he said. "This is just so sad. I never, ever thought something like this would happen in my church, in my community."

Most of the church's members are older, highly educated Taiwanese immigrants, Chen said.

"We're mostly retirees and the average age of our church is 80," he said.

Orange County Undersheriff Jeff Hallock praised the parishioners' quick work to detain the gunman.

"That group of churchgoers displayed what we believe is exceptional heroism and bravery in intervening to stop the suspect. They undoubtedly prevented additional injuries and fatalities," Hallock said. "I think it's safe to say that had people not intervened, it could have been much worse."

The shooting came a day after an 18-year-old man shot and killed 10 people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.

As news of the shooting broke on the heels of the racist rampage in Buffalo -- where the white gunman allegedly targeted a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood -- fear spread that the Taiwanese congregation had also been targets of a hate crime.

But when the shooter was identified as an Asian man, other questions arose as the investigation into the violence and the gunman's motive continues.

photo An Orange County Sheriff's Department officer guards the grounds at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, Calif., Sunday, May 15, 2022, after a fatal shooting. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
photo An Orange County Sheriff's Department K-9 unit checks the grounds at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, Calif., Sunday, May 15, 2022, after a fatal shooting. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
photo Laguna Woods Mayor Carol Moore, front left at podium, and Orange County Board of Supervisor, Lisa Barlett, right, surrounded by law enforcement officers, hold a press conference outside the grounds og Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, Calif., Sunday, May 15, 2022, after a fatal shooting. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
photo A police tape blocks off the entrance to the parking lot of Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, Calif., Monday, May 16, 2022. A man opened fire Sunday during a lunch reception at the church, killing one person and wounding five older people before a pastor hit the gunman on the head with a chair and parishioners hog-tied him with electrical cords. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
photo Crime scene tape is stretched across the exterior of the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, Calif., Sunday, May 15, 2022, after a fatal shooting. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
photo Two Orange County sheriff's vehicles are parked at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, Calif., Monday, May 16, 2022. A man opened fire Sunday during a lunch reception at the church, killing one person and wounding five older people before a pastor hit the gunman on the head with a chair and parishioners hog-tied him with electrical cords. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
photo A crime scene investigator enters a building past an Orange County Sheriff's deputy at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, Calif., Monday, May 16, 2022. A man opened fire Sunday during a lunch reception at the church, killing one person and wounding five older people before a pastor hit the gunman on the head with a chair and parishioners hog-tied him with electrical cords. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
photo An Orange County Sheriff's Department K-9 unit checks the grounds at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, Calif., Sunday, May 15, 2022, following a fatal shooting. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
photo Orange County Sheriff's Department Crime Lab investigators walk outside the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, Calif., Sunday, May 15, 2022, after a fatal shooting. A man opened fire during a lunch reception at the Southern California church on Sunday before he was stopped in what a sheriff's official called an act of "exceptional heroism and bravery." (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

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