A shooting at a Southern California church that killed one person and wounded five others is being investigated as a hate crime, authorities said on Monday.
The recent incident, which involved around 40 witnesses, occurred at Geneva Presbyterian Church in the 24000 block of El Toro Road in Laguna Woods just before 1:30 p.m. on Sunday.
The fatal shooting took place during a luncheon held by members of Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church to commemorate its former pastor Billy Chang, who was visiting from Taiwan.
The gunman, identified as 68-year-old David Wenwei Chou, reportedly drove all the way from Las Vegas and socialized with congregation members for about an hour despite not knowing anyone.
Chou eventually chained the church’s doors and filled the keyholes with superglue, according to police. He then pulled out one of two handguns and opened fire.
Dr. John Cheng, 52, tackled Chou and was fatally shot. While Chou was on the ground, other congregation members managed to hogtie him using extension cords before taking his weapons away.
Five Asian seniors were brought to the hospital after the shooting, while a sixth survivor sustained minor injuries. Police recovered two legally purchased handguns from Chou, as well as three bags with additional ammunition and other items, including four Molotov cocktail-like incendiary devices.
On Monday, Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes described the shooting as “a politically motivated hate incident.” Citing handwritten notes they recovered, Barnes said Chou “was upset about political tensions between China and Taiwan.”
Authorities learned that Chou’s family was among those forced to leave mainland China for Taiwan after 1948 when communists began their takeover. Mainlanders new to the island nation reportedly lived in slums and were often bullied.
Chou, who is a U.S. citizen, was born in Taiwan in 1953, according to Louis M. Huang, director general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Los Angeles. Authorities also learned through one of Chou’s neighbors that his wife left him last year.
The Las Vegas resident was booked into the Orange County Intake Release Center on one count of murder and five counts of attempted murder. He is being held on a $1 million bail.
During a news conference on Monday, Kristi Johnson, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles office, said a federal hate crime investigation is now ongoing. Chou is scheduled to make his first court appearance today.
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