The suspect in the deadly Laguna Woods church shooting was identified Monday as a 68-year-old Las Vegas man who was targeting the Taiwanese community, Orange County officials said.
Authorities identified David Chou as the gunman behind the Sunday afternoon shooting that killed one and wounded five others at Geneva Presbyterian Church on the 24000 block of El Toro Road, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.
The FBI said they opened a federal hate crimes investigation into the incident, which Sheriff Don Barnes described as being “politically motivated.”
“Based on preliminary information in the investigation is believed the suspect involved was upset about political tensions between China and Taiwan,” the sheriff said in a Monday news conference.
The attack happened during a lunch banquet after the morning service at Geneva Presbyterian, where around 50 people were gathered. The Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church uses the church for services.
The gunman entered the church and “was able to secure the doors within the church with chains and tried to disable locks within the church with superglue,” the sheriff said.
He then opened fire, striking multiple people.
One man, 52-year-old “hero” Dr. John Cheng, tackled the gunman and was shot and killed in the process, the sheriff said.
Five other people were also wounded, including an 86-year-old woman and four men aged 66, 92, 82 and 75, officials said.
The shooting came to an end when, after the doctor tackled the gunman, the church’s congregants overpowered the suspect and hogtied him with an extension cord until first responders arrived, authorities said. During the struggle, a pastor hit the gunman with a chair, enabling the congregants to subdue him, the sheriff said.
“Dr. Cheng charged the individual the suspect, attempted to disarm him, which allowed other parishioners then intercede, taking the suspect into custody,” Barnes said. “Without the actions of Dr. Cheng, there is no doubt that there’ll be numerous additional victims in this crime.”
Deputies then forced entry into the church and took the suspect into custody. Chou, who was not affiliated with the church, had driven to Orange County from Nevada on Saturday, officials said. He is a U.S. citizen who immigrated from China and worked as a security guard in the Las Vegas area.
Authorities said they found notes written in Mandarin in Chou’s car that showed “hatred of the Taiwanese people.” It’s still unclear why that specific church was targeted, officials said.
“From a national framework, the Taiwanese Presbyterian is not a large congregate location. And this, if you look at proximity to Vegas, this may have just been the closest in proximity,” the sheriff said.
After the deadly shooting, investigators found two 9 millimeter semi-automatic pistols at the scene.
The guns were serialized, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was able to determine that the suspect legally bought the firearms in Las Vegas, officials said.
Deputies also found several bags at the church that contained magazines with additional ammo and four Molotov cocktail-like incendiary devices that were placed around the church, according to Barnes.
“The way that this individual set up that environment to kill many more people, there would have been many, many more lives lost, if not for the concerted effort of the members of that church,” Barnes said.
Chou was booked on one count of murder and five counts of attempted murder in connection with the shooting, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. The sheriff said Sunday’s shooting was “one of the most horrific hate crimes I’ve seen.”
Cheng, the man killed in the shooting, was a sports medicine doctor from Laguna Niguel. He leaves behind a wife and two children. The shooting in Orange County came just one day after a gunman opened fire at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, killing 10 people.
“It is horrifying to be grieving yet another tragic shooting in just 72 hours – another weekend in America defined by senseless violence,” Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff said in a statement.