A gunman in a deadly attack on a California church was a Chinese immigrant motivated by hatred of the Taiwanese people, authorities said.
The shooting killed Dr. John Cheng, 52, and five others were injured in an attack on a Southern California church, authorities said at a news conference on Monday.
Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said the motive for the shooting was a grievance between the shooter, identified as a Chinese immigrant, and the Taiwanese community. China claims that Taiwan is part of its national territory and has not ruled out force to submit the island to its rule.
Barnes said the suspect went to the church in Orange County, where he was not a regular, secured the doors and began shooting. The shooter had placed 4 Molotov cocktail-like devices inside the church, the sheriff said.
Barnes said Cheng, left behind by a wife and two children, heroically charged at the shooter and attempted to disarm him, allowing others to intervene. A pastor hit the shooter in the head with a chair and parishioners tied him up with electrical cords. But Barnes said Cheng was hit by gunfire.
“Understanding that there were old people everywhere and they couldn’t get out because the doors had been chained. District Attorney Todd Spitzer.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department tweeted that 68-year-old David Chou of Las Vegas was convicted of one count of murder and five counts of attempted murder. The suspect legally purchased the two 9mm pistols in Las Vegas, said Stephen Galloway, assistant special agent in charge of ATF Los Angeles.
Jerry Chen had just walked into the church common room kitchen around 1:30 p.m. Sunday when he heard the gunshots.
Chen, 72, a longtime member of the Taiwan Presbyterian Church in Irvine, who worships at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, peeked around the corner and saw other scream, run and hide under tables.
“I knew someone was shooting,” he said. “I was very, very scared. I ran out the kitchen door to call 911.”
Four of the five people injured suffered serious gunshot wounds. Orange County Fire Chief Michael Contreras said two of the injured were in good condition, two were in stable condition, and the status of the fifth patient was undetermined.
“I’ll tell you the evil was in that church yesterday,” Spitzer said.
There is ample evidence that the suspect “had an absolute bias against the people of Taiwan, his country, as a Chinese or mainland national,” Spitzer said.
The suspect left notes in his vehicle relating to “his hatred of the Taiwanese people”, the sheriff said.
Jail records show Chou is being held on $1 million bond. It is not immediately clear whether he has an attorney who can speak on his behalf.
The church was cordoned off on Monday with yellow tape and several bouquets of flowers were left outside the church grounds.
But on Sunday afternoon, Chen said he was in such shock he was unable to tell the operator where he was when he called 911 from the church parking lot.
“I had to ask someone else for the address,” he said.
Chen said a group of about 40 congregants gathered in the communion hall for lunch 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 returned to Taiwan two years ago. It was his first time returning to the United States, Chen said.
“Everyone had just finished having lunch,” he said. “They were taking pictures with Pastor Chang. I had just finished my lunch and went into the kitchen.”
It was then that he heard the shots and fled.
Soon after, Chen said he heard details of what happened inside from other people who came out. Companions from the congregation told Chen that when the shooter stopped to reload, Chang hit him in the head with a chair while others moved quickly to grab his gun. They then overpowered and tied him up, Chen said.
“It was amazing to see how brave (Chang) and the others were,” he said. “It’s so sad. I never thought something like this would happen in my church, in my community.”
Most church members are older, highly educated Taiwanese immigrants, Chen said.
“We are mostly retirees and the average age of our church is 80,” he said.
Orange County Deputy Sheriff Jeff Hallock praised the quick work of parishioners in stopping the shooter.
“This group of worshipers displayed exceptional heroism and bravery in intervening to arrest the suspect. They undoubtedly averted further injury and death,” Hallock said. “I think it’s safe to say that if people hadn’t intervened, it could have been a lot 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 – fears spread that the Taiwanese congregation had also been targeted by a hate crime.
Laguna Woods was built as a senior citizens’ community and later became a town. More than 80% of residents in the city of 18,000 about 80 miles southeast of Los Angeles are at least 65 years old. The shooting took place in an area with a cluster of places of worship, including Catholic, Lutheran and Methodist churches and a Jewish synagogue.
Among the gunshot wounds are four Asian men, ages 66, 75, 82 and 92, and an 86-year-old Asian woman, the sheriff’s department said.
It was not immediately clear if all of the victims were of Taiwanese descent.
Tensions between China and Taiwan are at their highest in decades, with Beijing stepping up its military harassment by flying fighter jets to the self-governing island. China has not ruled out the force to reunite with Taiwan, which broke away from the mainland in a civil war in 1949.
Taiwan’s Chief Representative to the United States, Bi-khim Hsiao, offered his condolences to the families on Twitter.
“I join the families of the victims and the grieving Taiwanese American communities and pray for the speedy recovery of the injured survivors,” Hsiao wrote on Sunday.
The deadliest US church shooting took place in 2017 in Sutherland Springs, Texas. A gunman opened fire during a Sunday service at First Baptist Church and killed more than two dozen people.
In 2015, Dylann Roof fired dozens of bullets during the closing prayer of a 2015 Bible study session at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Nine members of the black congregation were killed in the racist violence and Roof became the first person in the United States sentenced to death for a federal hate crime. His appeal remains before the Supreme Court.