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Police say the Chinese man accused of shooting six elderly Taiwanese people and killing one at a California church on Sunday was motivated by ‘political tensions between China and Taiwan.’
David Chou, 68, is accused of opening fire at a Taiwanese congregation that was meeting at a church in Laguna Woods, about 50 mi southeast of Los Angeles.
Four of the victims remain in critical condition.
Chou, who is from Las Vegas, has been charged with one count of murder and five counts of attempted murder.
Deputies say the gunman was motivated by his victims’ ethnicity, according to KTTV reporter Travis Rice. The grisly attack came one day after a white supremacist killed 10 people at a grocery store in upstate New York.
Chou is of Chinese descent, according to booking information. He’s being held on $1 million bail.
A pastor hit Chou over the head with a chair shortly after he began his shooting spree. Elderly congregants, who say they’ve never seen him before, then took away his weapons and hogtied him with an electrical cord until police showed up.
The gunman is not believed to live in the area. Public records show he’s been associated with a dozen different addresses since the late 1980s, pointing to the possibility that he’s a property investor, the Orange County Register reports.
Police have identified the man who shot at elderly congregants at a Southern California church on Sunday afternoon as 68-year-old David Chou
Deputies say Chou, who is Chinese, was motivated by an ‘individual grievance’ against the Taiwanese community. Above, detectives outside the Geneva Presbyterian Church
The shooting happened in the small city of Laguna Woods, about 55 mi south of Los Angeles
Chou is accused of carrying out the gruesome at Geneva Presbyterian Church.
About 40 parishioners witnessed the violence – but those who were present also helped to prevent further bloodshed by overpowering the shooter and tying him up.
The shooting took place at around 1.25pm during a luncheon in honor of former pastor Billy Chang, who had served the church for 20 years and was a beloved and respected community member.
Chang moved back to Taiwan two years ago. This was his first time back stateside.
Longtime congregant Jerry Chen, 72 had just stepped into the kitchen of the church’s fellowship hall when he heard the gunshots and saw church members 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.’
Taiwanese hero pastor Billy Chang (pictured) hit a gunman with a chair while elderly congregants hogtied him after a shooting at Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church on Sunday, leaving one dead and injuring five
Chen, who called emergency services from the church’s parking lot, said he was in such a state of shock that he was unable to tell the operator his location. ‘I had to ask someone else for the address,’ he said.
Everyone had just finished lunch – a special bento box with teriyaki chicken.
Chen 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 afterwards, Chen said he heard the details of what happened inside from others who came out. Fellow congregants told him that when the gunman stopped to reload, Pastor 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.
‘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 elderly, highly educated Taiwanese immigrants, Cheng said. ‘We’re mostly retirees and the average age of our church is 80.’
All manner of emergency vehicles could be seen outsider the church on Sunday afternoon
Longtime congregant at Irvine Jerry Chen, 72 had just stepped into the kitchen of his church’s fellowship hall when he heard the gunshots and saw church members screaming, running and ducking under tables
Those wounded by gunshots included four Asian men, ages 66, 75, 82 and 92, and an 86-year-old Asian woman, the sheriff’s department said.
Two of the victims are a husband and wife. Four are in critical condition.
Authorities say those involved ‘showed exceptional heroism and bravery in detaining the suspect.’
‘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,’ Orange County Undersheriff Jeff Hallock said.
‘I think it’s safe to say that had people not intervened, it could have been much worse.’
Two handguns were found on the shooter and were quickly removed.
Two of the victims were taken to Providence Mission Hospital, the medical center confirmed. Another victim was transported to UC Irvine Medical Center, and two more were transported to Orange County Global Medical Center, including a 92-year-old man who was grazed by a bullet.
The majority of those inside the church were believed to be of Taiwanese descent and had gathered to honor a former pastor of the church with a lunch reception after Sunday morning’s service.
Deputies say the gunman, David Chou, was motivated by an ‘individual grievance’ against the Taiwanese people. Investigators said they don’t believe the gunman lives in the community.
A file photo of how the church normally looks, as pictured from its Facebook page
Church goers are seen as police investigate after a shooting inside Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods. Many of those present were of Taiwanese descent
Mina also said that it was not known whether the suspect had any connections to the church or whether any victims had been targeted.
‘Until we do that, we won’t really have a good idea if he was known to the congregants,’ Hallock said.
Investigators from the the FBI, ATF together with Orange County law enforcement are looking at many factors, including whether the attack could be a hate crime and whether the gunman was known to the church community.
‘Initial reports indicate that one person was killed, and several others were severely injured. Please keep the leadership of the Taiwanese congregation and Geneva in your prayers as they care for the those traumatized by this shooting. In your mercy, O Lord, we pray.’ a statement from the diocese read.
The surrounding city of 18,000 consists of Laguna Woods Village, a large retirement community for people 55 and older formerly known as Leisure World. More than 80% of residents in the city are at least 65 years old, according to demographic data.
Cynthia Conners, the mayor pro tem in Laguna Woods, said on Sunday that she is a member of the church and had attended services that morning. A Taiwanese group typically use the church later in the morning.
‘I could not even imagine something like this could happen here,’ said Charlotte Hseih, a church organist to the New York Times. ‘I’m just as shocked as anybody.’