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California church shooting was a ‘hate incident’, says sheriff


A Las Vegas man who authorities say opened fire on a Taiwanese congregation at a Southern California church on Sunday – killing one person and injuring five others before the pastor and congregants subdued and pulled him down tie up – was motivated by hate, the Orange County Sheriff said on Monday.

The suspect, David Chou68, a US citizen who emigrated from China, has been charged with murder and five counts of attempted murder in what Don Barnes, the sheriff, described at a Monday news conference as a ” “politically motivated hate incident” caused by grievances against the Taiwanese community.

The shooting occurred around 1:26 p.m. local time on Sunday inside the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, Calif., about 80 miles southeast of Los Angeles, in a diverse community made up of mostly retirees. It has a well-established Asian population.

Most of the victims were of Taiwanese descent and were between the ages of 66 and 92, Sheriff Barnes said. Four of the victims were seriously injured but their condition improved on Monday, authorities said. The FBI said it opened a federal hate crime investigation on Monday.

John Cheng, 52, was fatally shot after he attacked the shooter and tried to disarm him, Sheriff Barnes said. Mr. Cheng’s intervention allowed the pastor of the church to throw a chair at the shooter while others restrained him, he said.

“Without Dr. Cheng’s actions, there is no doubt that there would be many more victims in this crime,” Sheriff Barnes said.

Bags full of ammunition magazines, along with several incendiary devices, were found inside the church, Sheriff Barnes said.

The shooter had secured the church doors with chains and attempted to disable the locks with glue, the sheriff said, adding that he also attempted to nail down one of the building’s doors.

“The majority of those present were elderly and acted spontaneously and heroically,” Sheriff Barnes said. “And without their quick action, the way this individual created this environment to kill many more people, there would have been many, many more lives lost.”

Authorities said the suspect fired inside the church as members ate lunch after a morning service. Congregants tied down the shooter with an extension cord and confiscated two guns before deputies arrived and took him into custody, Sheriff Barnes said.

“This group of worshipers showed exceptional heroism and bravery in responding, in intervening to arrest the suspect,” Deputy Sheriff Jeff Hallock said Sunday at a news conference. “They have undoubtedly avoided further injury and death.”

Sheriff Barnes said investigators found notes in Mr Chou’s car, which was parked outside the church, which were evidence of his “hatred of the Taiwanese people”.

The shooting came at a dangerous time in the decades-long standoff between China and Taiwan. China has claimed Taiwan since the island broke away from the mainland in 1949, and it has threatened to bring them together by force. Beijing signaled its intentions towards Taiwan in a threatening manner, sending military jets over the island almost daily last fall.

More recently, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has convinced officials in Washington and Taiwan’s capital Taipei that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan in the coming years is a potential danger.

Authorities said they were interviewing more than 30 people who were inside the church during the shooting. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said on Twitter that he was helping with the investigation.

In a series of text messages on Sunday, the Reverend Albany Lee, who presides over the Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in Irvine, which is on the campus of the Presbyterian Church in Geneva, said congregants told him the shooter “was a new face”. ”

“No one recognizes the shooter,” Mr Lee said, adding that when a receptionist asked the shooter who he was, “he said he was here before”.

Mr Lee said the person who subdued the shooter was a pastor who led services on Sunday.

This pastor, who was not injured, had “subdued the shooter before he loaded another round of bullets”, he said. “Thank God,” he added.

Cynthia Conners, the acting mayor of Laguna Woods, said she has been a member of the church since 2006 and has attended Sunday morning services. Ms Conners, who left the church around noon, said the Taiwanese congregation is sharing the church space.

The church is in a peaceful retirement community in a safe neighborhood, said Charlotte Hsieh, the church organist. “I couldn’t even imagine something like this could happen here,” she said. “I’m as shocked as anyone.”

Lisa Bartlett, an Orange County supervisor, said at the press conference Sunday that “today is a very gloomy day.”

She noted that the church shooting came just a day after “tragic and heinous actions that led to senseless deaths” in Buffalo, where nearly all of the 10 people who were shot and killed were black.

Rep. Katie Porter, a Democratic congresswoman who represents Orange County, called the news disturbing, especially given the shooting in Buffalo. “That shouldn’t be our new normal,” she said.

The report was provided by Jill Cowan, Shawn Huber, Christophe Mele, Vimal Patel, Amy Chang Chien and Livia Albeck-Ripka.



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