Orange County church shooting: Suspect was upset over China-Taiwan tensions, investigators say



CNN
 — 

A suspect in a deadly shooting at a church in Laguna Woods, California, likely was politically motivated, investigators said.

“It is believed the suspect involved was upset about political tensions between China and Taiwan,” Orange County Sheriff Donald Barnes said at a news conference Monday.

The suspect, David Chou, 68, of Las Vegas was a US citizen who immigrated from China years ago, according to Barnes.

At least one person died and five were wounded in the shooting Sunday at Geneva Presbyterian Church, where a sister Taiwanese church worshiped, the sheriff’s department said.

One shooting victim was treated for injuries at the University of California, Irvine Medical Center and discharged overnight, while another two who were transported to Providence Mission Hospital are now in good condition, according to hospital spokespeople.

CNN has reached out to find out the current condition of the two other patients. Officials initially reported that four of the shooting victims were in critical condition.

The suspect is not believed to have any direct connection to the church or any member of the church, the sheriff said. Officials said they believe he acted alone.

Prosecutors are contemplating charging the suspect with one count of murder and five counts of attempted murder at his arraignment Tuesday, District Attorney Todd Spitzer said.

CNN has not been able to identify an attorney for Chou.

The shooting happened during a lunch reception of largely elderly congregants to celebrate a pastor of the Taiwanese congregation who was returning from a mission trip in Taiwan, Barnes said, and it was heroism on the part of the man who died that prevented more bloodshed.

Dr. John Cheng, one of the people at the reception, charged at the suspect, and “during the struggle, other parishioners had got involved,” Barnes said.

A pastor threw a chair at the suspect, and the group was able to tie him up, Barnes said.

The parishioners were able to hogtie his legs with an extension cord and confiscate at least two handguns from him, Undersheriff Jeff Hallock said Sunday.

“That group of churchgoers displayed what we believe is exceptional heroism in interfering or intervening to stop the suspect,” he said.

Cheng, 52, was shot, however, and died at the church.

“Dr. Cheng is a hero in this incident, based on statements from the witnesses and corroborated by other means,” the sheriff said.

The suspect had secured doors of the church from the inside before he began shooting, Barnes said. He also had a bag of Molotov cocktails and a bag of extra ammunition, according to Barnes.

The shooting occurred during a lunch reception honoring a former pastor of a Taiwanese congregation that uses the church, a presbytery leader said.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Los Angeles determined that Chou was the original purchaser of the two firearms recovered at the scene, ATF agent Stephen Galloway said.

Authorities said the victims hurt in the shooting included four Asian men, ages 66, 75, 82 and 92, and one Asian woman age 86.

About 50 people were at the reception, said Barnes.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said his office is “working closely with local law enforcement.”

“No one should have to fear going to their place of worship. Our thoughts are with the victims, community, and all those impacted by this tragic event,” Newsom said in a tweet.

The Taiwanese Presbyterian Church shared space with Geneva Presbyterian since 2009, according to the sheriff. It always holds a lunch after its Sunday morning service, Laguna Woods Mayor Pro Tem Cynthia Conners told CNN.

“We’ll see what we can do to meet with the members of the congregation, we’ll bring in someone from the Orange County Human Rights Commission … and try to make sure that the Asian members of our community feel as safe as all the other members of our community, although I would have to say I think we all feel a little less safe today,” Conners said.

Taiwan’s government said its economic and cultural office in Los Angeles has activated emergency response plans.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs sends our deepest condolences to the victims and their families,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Joanne Ou said. “We will keep in touch with the family members of the victims to understand their needs, and provide all necessary help,” she added.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen posted on social media Tuesday, “I want to convey my sincere condolences on the death of Dr. John Cheng & my hopes for a prompt recovery for those injured in the shooting at the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in California. Violence is never the answer.”

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