Deadly OC church shooting was 'politically-motivated hate incident,' authorities say

Chilling photos show the moment the Laguna Woods church gunman was subdued by heroic congregants.

ByCarlos Granda, Leanne Suter, and staff KABC logo
Tuesday, May 17, 2022
OC church shooting was 'politically-motivated hate incident'
A shooting at a church in Orange County, which left one person dead and another five injured, was a "politically-motivated hate incident," authorities announced Monday.

ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. (KABC) -- A shooting at a church in Orange County, which left a prominent doctor dead and another five people injured, was a "politically-motivated hate incident," authorities announced Monday.

The suspect, identified as David Chou of Las Vegas, was booked on one felony count of murder and five felony counts of attempted murder, according to the Orange County Sheriff's Department.

He is being held on $1 million bail. The Orange County District Attorney's office is expected to officially charge him on Monday.

Chilling photos obtained by ABC7 show the moment Chou was subdued by heroic congregants.

Inside Geneva Presbyterian Church in Orange County moments after a gunman opened fire. Parishioners quickly jumped on the shooter to subdue him until police arrived.
Inside Geneva Presbyterian Church in Orange County moments after a gunman opened fire. Parishioners quickly jumped on the shooter to subdue him until police arrived.
Inside Geneva Presbyterian Church in Orange County moments after a gunman opened fire. Knife seen allegedly brought in by the shooter.

The shooting happened just before 1:30 p.m. Sunday inside the Geneva Presbyterian Church on El Toro Road in Laguna Woods.

A statement from the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church congregation Monday afternoon said the congregation welcomed its former pastor, Billy Chang, returning from Taiwan, for a guest sermon at 10 a.m.

"At around 10:10 a.m., a man whom the receptionist did not recognize entered the sanctuary. He was wearing a black shirt with a word written on it in white; some believe the word on his shirt was 'Security,'" the statement said. "The receptionist welcomed him and asked him in Taiwanese to fill out a form providing his personal information. The man refused, claiming that he had attended services at this church twice in the past and had already filled out the form."

Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, which holds its services at Geneva, said Chou took a newspaper and sat in the back reading it during the church service. After the service, a lunch banquet was provided where 140 people attended, many taking pictures with Pastor Chang, according to the church.

During a news conference Monday afternoon, Orange County Sheriff Donald Barnes said Chou acted alone and was not a regular attendee of the church.

"He is not believed to be associated with any specific church or any religion, and there's no direct connection to the church or any member of the church that we're aware of," said Barnes.

The sheriff added the 68-year-old, a U.S. citizen from Taiwan, was motivated by anger over political tensions between China and Taiwan.

This booking photo from the Orange County Sheriff's Department shows David Chou, 68, of Las Vegas.
Orange County Sheriff's Department

That anger pushed him to travel to Southern California from Las Vegas, where he lives alone and worked in security.

The person killed was identified as 52-year-old John Cheng, a prominent doctor who specialized in sports medicine from Laguna Niguel.

He's being credited with saving dozens of lives when he tackled Chou and tried to disarm him, allowing others to jump in and help.

Cheng, who leaves behind a wife and two children, was shot several times during the struggle and died at the scene.

"Without the actions of Dr. Cheng, it is no doubt that there would be numerous additional victims in this crime," Barnes said.

READ MORE | Prominent OC doctor killed while trying to stop Laguna Woods church shooting suspect, sheriff says

An Orange County doctor who was killed during a mass shooting at a Laguna Woods church on Sunday is being hailed a hero after he tackled the gunman and attempted to disarm him, which allowed parishioners to step in and subdue him.

The other injured victims, four men and one woman, were identified as being between the ages of 66 and 92. They were all taken to local hospitals for treatment -- two of them to Orange County Global Medical Center, which issued a statement Monday on the condition of two of the victims.

"Both patients were admitted to the hospital following treatment in our trauma center. Both are in stable condition, expected to fully recover from their injuries, and discharged in the next 24 to 48 hours," the statement said in part.

Barnes said Chou had secured doors and tried to super glue the locks so the victims could not leave.

"As they (parishioners) walked through the doors, they saw Chou applying iron chains to start locking the doors shut," Taiwanese Presbyterian Church said. "As Chou had not yet finished, he allowed them to exit. When they asked him about his actions, he refused to answer."

The church said that after Chou finished locking the doors shut, one of the church members tried going back inside after realizing they forgot one of their belongings, but Chou did not allow that person in. He then fired a bullet toward the ceiling after nailing two exit doors shut, according to the church.

The sheriff added he had strategically placed two bags inside the church - one contained Molotov cocktails and the other had extra magazines and ammo.

Taiwanese Presbyterian Church says that after Dr. Cheng tried to stop the shooter and was shot, some church members escaped through a door in the kitchen that Chou had not locked shut.

"While Chou was reloading his gun, Pastor Chang struck him with a chair, and other church members confiscated Chou's weapons," the church said.

At least two weapons were taken from the suspect by the parishioners, officials said.

At least one person was killed and multiple others were injured during a shooting on Sunday at a church in Laguna Woods, authorities said.

Police confirmed to ABC News the guns involved were legally purchased in Las Vegas.

"In this county, when these things happen, we stand up united, shoulder to shoulder, lifting each other up and with one unified voice [to say,] 'There's no place for hate in this county and we are not going to tolerate it,'" said Barnes.

According to police, Chou's anger reportedly began when he lived in Taiwan, saying his "anti-Taiwan views" were not accepted.

Chou reportedly has a wife and son who still live there, according to investigators.

Police said officers found notes in his vehicle indicating his hatred toward Taiwan.

Tensions between China and Taiwan are at the highest in decades, with Beijing stepping up its military harassment by flying fighter jets toward the self-governing island. China has not ruled out force to reunify with Taiwan, which split from the mainland during a civil war in 1949.

Taiwan's chief representative in the U.S., Bi-khim Hsiao, offered condolences to the families on Twitter.

"I join the families of the victims and Taiwanese American communities in grief and pray for the speedy recovery of the wounded survivors," Hsiao wrote on Sunday.

The FBI has officially opened a federal hate crimes investigation into the shooting.

Most of the church's members are older, highly educated Taiwanese immigrants, said Jerry Chen, a longtime member of the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, during an interview with the Associated Press.

"We're mostly retirees and the average age of our church is 80," he said.

"I knew someone was shooting," he said. "I was very, very scared. I ran out the kitchen door to call 911. "

The shooting came a day after an 18-year-old man shot and killed 10 people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.

The deadliest shooting inside a U.S. church was 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 Charleston's Mother Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina. Nine members of the Black congregation were killed in the racist violence and Roof became the first person in the U.S. sentenced to death for a federal hate crime. His appeal remains before the Supreme Court.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.