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Laguna Woods church and community leaders join together to denounce politically motivated violence

Press conference at church
Jenny Wan-Chen Lo, from Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, left, comforts Sunny Chen at a news conference held at Geneva Presbyterian Church. Chen is one of the survivors of the shooting that took place at Geneva Presbyterian Church.
(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

Local leaders gathered Saturday to express support for the Taiwanese congregation of a Laguna Woods church that was recently targeted by a gunman who killed one parishioner and wounded five others in what authorities have characterized as a “politically motivated hate incident.”

Richard Lin, deputy director general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Los Angeles, was among those who condemned the attack at Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in Orange County. Lin, speaking at a news conference in the church parking lot, said that the Taiwanese people have “a strong belief that we have differences, but we share a common future.”

David Wenwei Chou, 68, of Las Vegas, has been charged with murder and attempted murder in connection with the Sunday shooting at the Taiwanese church, which rents space at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods.

Chou, a U.S. citizen who was born in Taiwan, apparently had a grievance with the Taiwanese community, police said. According to Taiwanese media, Chou had ties to a mainland Chinese-backed organization opposed to Taiwan’s independence. China claims Taiwan as its own territory, to be annexed by force if necessary.

Chou’s hatred toward the island, documented in handwritten notes recovered by authorities, appears to have begun when he felt he wasn’t treated well while living there. A former neighbor said that Chou’s life unraveled after his wife left him and that his mental health had been in decline.

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John Cheng, a 52-year-old doctor, died from gunshot wounds that he suffered when he tackled the gunman. His actions, which allowed other parishioners to subdue and disarm the shooter, likely saved many lives, authorities said. Four men ages 66, 92, 82 and 75, and an 86-year-old woman were shot and wounded. Four of them sustained critical injuries.

The Rev. Albany Lee, the church’s pastor, said Saturday that he had met Cheng just once. He was visiting Cheng’s mother, who had recently lost her husband, when he met the doctor. “I can still vividly see him in front of me now,” Lee said. Armed security guards and sheriff’s deputies stood on the fringes of the crowd.

Cheng, Lee said, “followed Christ’s teaching to the end.” The church’s congregants “hardly knew him, but he gave his life to the people around him,” Lee said. Dozens of people were inside the church when the shooting began and some of the survivors attended Saturday’s news conference.

Flowers were piled in front of the church’s sign on El Toro Road. Someone had placed a photograph of Cheng near the flowers; written beneath it was the word “Hero.”

The Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church plans to hold a service Sunday that will be open to the public.


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