LAGUNA WOODS, Calif. (CN) — The man who walked into an Orange County, California, church on Sunday and shot six people, killing one of them, was motivated by a hatred of the Taiwanese people, according to law enforcement officials.
"We do know, based on the information we've collected, that this was a politically motivated hate incident," said Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes at a press conference on Monday.
The suspect was identified as David Chou, a 68-year-old U.S. citizen who was born in mainland China. According to Barnes, Chou lived in Taiwan for a number of years, and his wife still lives there.
"He was not well-received there," said Barnes, adding that the shooter was driven by that and by political tensions between China and Taiwan.
Much of the information about Chou was gleaned from written notes discovered by law enforcement in a vehicle registered to Chou that was parked in the church parking lot.
Chou had been living in Las Vegas for the last few years, apart from his wife and son, and had been working as a security guard. He had a license to carry a firearm.
On Sunday, approximately 40-50 mostly elderly congregants were having lunch in the banquet hall of Geneva Presbyterian Church, a Taiwanese church. According to Barnes, Chou's attack was meticulously planned. He used chains to lock the doors leading to the banquet hall, and attempted to disable the locks with super glue. He placed bags of ammunition and what Barnes called "Molotov cocktail-like devices" throughout the room.
"He formulated a strategy," said Barnes. "It was very well thought out."
Chou spent some time milling about the room. Congregants didn't recognize him but had no reason to be afraid. Then Chou proceeded to open fire, with two 9 mm semiautomatic handguns purchased legally in Las Vegas.
Officials said many more congregants could have been killed were it not for the actions of Dr. John Cheng, a sports medicine doctor who at age 52 was one of the youngest people in the room. Cheng charged across the room partway through the massacre and attempted to disarm the shooter.
"Dr. Cheng is a hero in this incident," said Barnes. "He saved the lives of probably upwards of dozens of people."
In his attempt to stop the assailant, Cheng was shot and he later died. But others joined him in the attempt to stop the attacker, including a pastor who had recently returned from Taiwan who hit the suspect with a chair while he was reloading. Other congregants tackled him and hogtied him with an extension cord. Police later arrested him.
It's unclear why Chou chose that particular church for his rampage.
"We’re still trying to determine why he targeted this particular church," said Barnes. "If you look at its proximity to Las Vegas, it may have been the closest."
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said at the press conference that Chou will be charged with one count of murder, five counts of attempted murder and four counts of unlawful possession of explosives. He could be sentenced to life in prison — or worse.
"Sometime down the road, we will have to determine whether or not we'll be seeking the death penalty," said Spitzer.
Spitzer said his office may also decide to seek a hate crime sentencing enhancement.
"With respect to hate crimes, there’s a lot of evidence that indicates the suspect had an absolute bias against Taiwanese people, as a Chinese mainland national," Spitzer said. He noted a hate crime enhancement would not add any time to a life sentence or a death sentence but said officials wanted to emphasize "we will not tolerate hate in this county."Follow @hillelaron
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