Laguna Woods, Calif. ( Associated Press) — The gunman in the deadly attack on a Southern California church was a Chinese immigrant motivated by hatred for the people of Taiwan, officials said.
The shooter killed 52-year-old Dr. John Cheng and injured five others during a lunch hosted by the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, which worships at the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, officials said at a news conference on Monday. said.
Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said the motive for the shooting was a complaint between the shooter, who was identified as a Chinese immigrant, and a US citizen, and the Taiwanese community. China claims Taiwan is part of its national territory and has not ruled out the use of force to bring the island under its rule.
Barnes said the suspect went to an Orange County church, where he was not a regular attendee, secured the doors and began shooting. The gunman had kept equipment such as 4 Molotov cocktails inside the church, the sheriff said.
Barnes said Cheng, survived by a wife and two children, accused the shooter of heroism and attempted to disarm him, allowing the others to intervene. The sheriff said that Cheng probably saved the lives of “above dozens”.
A priest hit the gunman on the head with a chair and parishioners tied him up with electrical wires. But Cheng was hit by bullets.
Orange County said, “Understanding that there were elders everywhere and they couldn’t exit the compound because the doors were chained.. they found themselves charging across the room and doing everything they could to disarm the attacker.” took.” District Attorney Todd Spitzer.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department tweeted that David Chow, 68, of Las Vegas, has been charged with one count of murder and five counts of attempted murder. Stephen Galloway, assistant special agent in charge of ATF Los Angeles, said the suspect legally purchased two 9mm pistols in Las Vegas.
Barnes said the suspect made brief remarks when he was taken into custody and then asked for a lawyer.
Jerry Chen had just entered the church’s fellowship hall kitchen at around 1:30 p.m. when he heard gunshots.
Chen, 72, a longtime member of the Irwin Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, looked around the corner and saw others screaming, running and ducking under tables.
“I knew someone was shooting,” he said. “I was very, very scared. I ran out the kitchen door to call 911.
Four of the five people who were injured in the bullet injuries sustained serious injuries. Orange County Fire Authority Officer Michael Contreras said two of the injured were in good condition, two were in stable condition, and the condition of a fifth patient was not known.
“I’ll tell you there was evil in that church yesterday,” Spitzer said.
There is plenty of evidence, Spitzer said, that the suspect had “an outright prejudice against the people of Taiwan, his country, a Chinese or a mainland citizen.”
The sheriff said the suspect left notes in his vehicle about the “hatred of Taiwanese people”.
Jail records show Chow is being held on $1 million bail. It is not immediately known whether he has an attorney who can speak on his behalf.
On Monday the church was cordoned off with yellow police tape and several bouquets of flowers were left outside the church grounds.
But on Sunday afternoon, Chen said he was in such a state of shock that he could not tell the operator his location when he called 911 from the parking lot of the church.
“I had to ask someone else for the address,” he said.
Chen said a group of about 40 congregations joined the Fellowship Hall after the morning service to welcome their former pastor, Billy Chang, a beloved and respected community member who had served the church for 20 years. were gathered in Chang moved back to Taiwan two years ago. Chen said it was his first time back statesside.
“Everyone had just had lunch,” he said. “They were taking pictures with Pastor Chang. I had just finished my lunch and went to the kitchen.”
Then he heard gunshots and fled.
“It was amazing how brave (Chang) and others were,” he said. “It’s just so sad. I never thought something like this would happen in my church, in my community.”
Chen said the majority of church members are older, highly educated Taiwanese immigrants.
“We are mostly retired and the average age of our church is 80,” he said.
Orange County Undersheriff Jeff Hallock praised the parishioners’ quick action to nab the gunman.
“That group of church-goers showed that we value exceptional heroism and bravery in intervening to stop the suspect. They undoubtedly prevented additional injuries and fatalities,” Hallock said. “I think it’s safe to say that had people not intervened, it could have been much worse.”
The shooting came a day after an 18-year-old man was shot and killed at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.,
As news of the shooting came on the heels of a racist stampede in Buffalo — where a white gunman reportedly targeted a supermarket in a predominantly black neighborhood — fears spread that the Taiwanese congregation was also the target of a hate crime.
Laguna Woods was created as a senior living community and later became a town. In a city of 18,000 people about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of Los Angeles, more than 80% of its residents are at least 65. The shooting took place in an area with a cluster of houses of worship, including Catholic, Lutheran and Methodist churches. A Jewish synagogue.
The sheriff’s department said the wounded included four Asian men aged 66, 75, 82 and 92, and an 86-year-old Asian woman.
It was not immediately clear whether all those who died were of Taiwanese origin.
Tensions between China and Taiwan are at their highest in decades, with Beijing increasing its military offensive by flying fighter jets towards the self-ruled island. China has not ruled out force to reunite with Taiwan, which broke away from the mainland in 1949 during the civil war.
Taiwan’s chief representative to the US, Bi-Khim Xiao, offered condolences to the families on Twitter.
“I join the families of the victims and the American community of Taiwan in grief and pray for the speedy recovery of the injured,” Hsiao wrote on Sunday.
In 2017, the deadliest shooting took place inside an American church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. A gunman opened fire during a Sunday meeting at First Baptist Church, killing more than two dozen people.
In 2015, Dylan Roof opened fire during the closing prayer of a 2015 Bible study session at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Nine members of a black congregation were killed in racist violence and Roof became the first person in the US to be sentenced to death for a federal hate crime. His appeal remains in the Supreme Court.
This story has been corrected to show that Pastor Billy Chang has not retired.
Bharat reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press journalists Stephanie Diazio and John Antzac in Los Angeles also contributed to this story. News researcher Rhonda Schaffner contributed from New York.
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