LAGUNA WOODS, Calif. — A 68-year-old man has been charged with one count of murder and five counts of attempted murder after he opened fire at a California church on Sunday as the mainly elderly congregation had gathered for lunch with a visiting former pastor.
Authorities believe that David Chou, a Chinese immigrant who currently works as a security guard in Las Vegas, Nevada, had targeted Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, which meets at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, due to personal angst over political tensions between China and Taiwan. The church is largely comprised of Taiwanese immigrants.
During a press conference on Monday, Orange County Sheriff Donald Barnes explained that were it not for the quick action of church members, the tragedy could have been much worse.
Barnes outlined that police found “several bags within the facility [that] contained magazines with additional ammo [and] four Molotov cocktail-type incendiary devices that he had placed around the inside of the church.” Chou also “secured the doors within the church with chains and tried to disable locks in the church with superglue,” he said.
Church member Dr. John Cheng, 52, is being hailed as a hero as he charged Chou in an attempt to disarm him. His actions, Barnes said, paved the way for other congregants to apprehend the gunman. Cheng died in his efforts to stop Chou, being shot once. Chou sought to shoot him a second time, but the gun jammed.
“Without the actions of Dr. Cheng, it is no doubt that there would be numerous additional victims in this crime,” Barnes explained.
Former longtime pastor Billy Chang, who was visiting from Taiwan, also threw a chair at Chou, and others were quick to spring into action, hogtying the assailant with an extension cord until police arrived.
Chou had no affiliation with Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, and his immediate family lives in China. He is now charged with one count of murder and five counts of attempted murder, with an additional federal hate crime charge pending. He faces up to life in prison or the death penalty.
The remaining victims, which were taken to local hospitals for treatment, were all senior citizens, ranging in ages 66 to 92, according to an update from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
District Attorney Todd Spitzer, who visited the crime scene Sunday evening, also outlined that the church showed evidence of “havoc,” with overturned tables and containers of popcorn — and even a walker that had been abandoned by an elderly person who sought to flee the scene.
“I will tell you that evil was in that church yesterday,” he said, while also applauding the heroic actions of the church members, especially Dr. Cheng, who “sacrificed himself so that others could live.”
“That irony in a church is not lost on me,” Spitzer declared.
If you missed our press conference held on Monday, May 16th with the most recent updates about the Laguna Woods Church shooting you can view our Facebook live here: https://t.co/fdBI8SXUvg
— OC Sheriff, CA (@OCSheriff) May 16, 2022
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to note that Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church utilizes the building of Geneva Presbyterian Church. 5/20/2022 10:05 p.m.