Laguna Woods shooting news conference
Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes releases details of shooting. Photo of "hero" victim Dr. John Cheng is on right of screen. Courtesy OCSheriff Facebook page

The man who opened fire inside a Laguna Woods church, killing one person and injuring five others, had no connection to the Taiwanese congregation or anyone in it, but was a Chinese immigrant motivated by hate due to political tensions between China and Taiwan, Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said Monday.

David Wenwei Chou, 68, of Las Vegas, remains jailed on suspicion of one count of murder and five counts of attempted murder stemming from the Sunday afternoon shooting at the Geneva Presbyterian Church at 24301 El Toro Road.

He is accused of walking into the church as a Taiwanese congregation was holding a post-services banquet to honor a visiting pastor, barricading the doors so those inside could not escape, then initially mingling with parishioners but eventually opening fire, killing one person and injuring five others.

Barnes said Chou also placed four incendiary devices inside the church, similar to Molotov cocktails. Investigators also found bags that Chou brought to the church containing additional ammunition.

Dr. John Cheng, 52, a physician with South Bay Medical Group in Aliso Viejo, was killed when he charged the gunman and attempted to disarm him, Barnes said. Cheng is survived by a wife and two children.

“Dr. Cheng is a hero in this incident,” Barnes said, adding that the doctor’s actions bought time for other parishioners to subdue the suspect and eventually hogtie him.

“Without the actions of Dr. Cheng, there is no doubt there would be additional victims in this crime,” Barnes said.

The sheriff said investigators have determined the shooting was an isolated incident carried out solely by Chou, and the shooting was a “politically motivated hate incident.” Barnes said the suspect “was upset about political tensions between China and Taiwan.”

Investigators were still working to determine why Chou, who was a licensed security guard in Nevada, chose the Orange County congregation to target, since he had no known ties to anyone connected with it.

When the shooting erupted, parishioners took quick action. Cheng charged the gunman when he paused to reload his weapon. The pastor also threw a chair at the gunman, Barnes said, and others advanced on him, held him down and hogtied him with electrical cords.

In addition to Cheng, five other people were shot:

— a 66-year-old man;

— a 92-year-old man;

— an 82-year-old man;

— a 75-year-old man;

— and an 86-year-old woman.

None of their names have been released.

According to the South Coast Medical Group website, Cheng was certified in family and sports medicine, the son of a physician and an “accomplished martial arts instructor.” He grew up in Texas, studied at Texas Tech School of Medicine and did his residency at UCLA.

Two semi-automatic handguns were taken from the attacker. Federal officials said Monday that Chou legally purchased the weapons in Las Vegas, one in 2015 and the other in 2017.

Chou is expected to appear in Orange County Superior Court on Tuesday. He is facing a variety of possible state charges, but the FBI has also opened a federal hate crime investigation.

Congregant Jerry Chen, 72, told the Los Angeles Times he was in a nearby kitchen at the church just before 1:30 p.m. Sunday when he heard the shots.

“I heard the gun sounds,” he said. “Then, I heard two or three more gunshots. He was just randomly shooting.”

Chen told the Times he then saw the pastor, Billy Chang, hit the gunman with a chair when the shooter paused to reload his weapon. That’s when other members of the congregation tackled him.

The Los Angeles branch of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sent special agents to Laguna Woods to assist the OCSD with its investigation.

Laguna Woods is an age-restricted community for people 55 and older. It opened as Leisure World in 1964.

Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett of the Fifth District said the board was making sure mental health professionals would be made available to those impacted by the shooting.

“This is upsetting and disturbing news, especially less than a day after a mass shooting in Buffalo,” said Rep. Katie Porter, D- Irvine, whose district includes Laguna Woods. “This should not be our new normal. I will work hard to support the victims and their families.”

Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn also weighed in, releasing the following statement regarding deadly gun violence in both Buffalo, New York and Orange County. “We cannot be a nation where multiple mass shootings in a single weekend is normal, where gun violence and the hate that so often drives it is tolerated. We need Congress to do something and pass the same, commonsense gun laws that every other modernized democracy has in place, and here in L.A. County, I am committed to getting as many guns off the street as I can.”

The shooting came one day after a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, was targeted by a heavily armed shooter who killed 10 people and wounded three others. Authorities arrested an 18-year-old man in that crime, which they said was racially motivated. Eleven of the 13 victims were Black.

Sen. Dave Min, D-Irvine, issued a statement extending his “thoughts and prayers,” adding, “It is almost unthinkable that one of the safest places in the country would be hit by the specter of gun violence.”

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