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Taiwanese church shooting suspect is charged with hate crimes

A bicyclist stops at a sidewalk memorial in front of a church.
A bicyclist stops at the sidewalk memorial in front of the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods last month. A gunman opened fire at the church May 15, killing one and injuring five.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

A 68-year-old man accused of killing one person and injuring five others at a Taiwanese Presbyterian church in Laguna Woods has been charged with hate crime enhancements, Orange County prosecutors announced Friday.

David Wenwei Chou of Las Vegas had previously been charged with murder, attempted murder and other felony counts in the May 15 shooting.

Prosecutors this week added a hate crimes enhancement to the murder charge, alleging that Chou’s killing of Dr. John Cheng, 52, was motivated by race, color, religion, nationality or country of origin.

Prosecutors also added hate crime enhancements for each of the five counts of attempted murder against Chou.

Chou could face the death penalty if convicted of all charges, which also include four counts of possession of an explosive device, enhancements of lying in wait and personal discharge of a firearm causing death. He has not entered a plea, according to court records.

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The hate crime enhancements were filed after prosecutors reviewed additional evidence, Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer said. Authorities did not provide details about that evidence.

‘It is believed the suspect involved was upset about political tensions between China and Taiwan,’ Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said.

Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes last month characterized the shootings as a “politically motivated hate incident” and said authorities think Chou “specifically targeted the Taiwanese community.”

Barnes said Chou left notes in Chinese in his car stating that he did not believe Taiwan should be independent from China. He apparently had an issue with Taiwanese people because of the way he was treated while living in Taiwan, Barnes said. Chou grew up in Taiwan as a waishengren — someone with recent roots in China.

China considers Taiwan a breakaway province and has grown increasingly aggressive about reclaiming the democratic, self-ruled island. Within Taiwan, a majority of people favor maintaining the status quo, with some wanting to openly declare independence and a small minority wanting to someday unify with China.

The Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church is known for its support of pro-independence causes, and the Laguna Woods congregation conducted services in the Taiwanese dialect, rather than Mandarin.

Booking photo of David Chou
David Chou, 68, faces murder, attempted murder and other charges in the Laguna Woods church shooting.
(Orange County Sheriff’s Department)

Prosecutors allege that Chou entered Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, where the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church rents space, with two 9-millimeter handguns, several backpacks that contained extra magazines and four Molotov cocktail devices.

He allegedly hid the backpacks in a church banquet hall and chained several doors shut, then mingled with parishioners. The group was there for a luncheon honoring longtime Pastor Billy Chang, who was visiting after two years in Taiwan.

How a luncheon celebrating the return of a congregation’s pastor turned into a deadly scene.

When the gunman opened fire, Cheng, the doctor, fought back and was fatally shot. Five others, ranging in age from 66 to 92, were hospitalized and survived.

After Cheng attempted to stop the gunman, Chang, the visiting pastor, ran up to him with a chair as a weapon.

Chang said he pushed the gunman to the floor, then hogtied him with an electric cord with the help of other parishioners, according to officials and eyewitness accounts.

“He got scared. I don’t think he expected someone to attack him,” Chang said in an interview with The Times.


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