David Chou, 68, of Las Vegas, was scheduled to appear in California state court on Tuesday on suspicion of murder and attempted murder. Police said he hid firebombs ahead of Sunday’s shooting at a gathering of mostly elderly Taiwanese parishioners at the Orange County Church outside Los Angeles. One man was killed and five people injured, the oldest aged 92. A federal hate crime investigation is also underway.
Chou, a US citizen, apparently had a grievance with the Taiwanese community, police said. Chou was born in Taiwan in 1953, Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported, citing the head of Taipei’s Economic and Cultural Office in Los Angeles, Taiwan’s de facto consulate in the city.
According to Taiwanese media, Chou had ties to a Chinese-backed organization opposed to Taiwanese independence, although details could not immediately be confirmed.
China claims Taiwan as its own territory to be annexed by force if necessary and regularly denounces Tsai, his ruling Democratic Progressive Party and their foreign supporters in increasingly violent terms.
Tensions between China and Taiwan are at their highest in decades, with Beijing stepping up its military harassment by flying fighter jets to the self-governing island.
In Taiwan, DPP MK Lin Ching-yi said “ideology has become a reason for genocide” in a post on her Facebook page.
Lin said Taiwanese must ‘confront hate speech and organizations’ backed by China’s ruling Communist Party, pointing to the United Front Work Department which seeks to advance China’s political agenda in Taiwan and among overseas Chinese communities.
The United States is Taiwan’s main political and military ally, although it does not extend the island’s official diplomatic relations out of respect for Beijing.
Bi-khim Hsiao, Taiwan’s de facto ambassador, tweeted on Monday that she was “shocked and saddened by the fatal shooting at the Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in Irvine, California.”
“I join the families of the victims and the grieving Taiwanese American communities and pray for the speedy recovery of the injured survivors,” Hsiao wrote.
Chou’s hatred of the island, documented in handwritten notes found by authorities, appears to have begun when he felt he was not treated well while living there.
A former neighbor said Chou’s life fell apart after his wife left and his mental health declined.
Chou’s family appears to be among an estimated 1 million mainland Chinese refugees who moved to Taiwan around the time the Communists came to power on the mainland in 1949.
The former Japanese colony had not been handed over to Nationalist Chinese rule until 1945 at the end of World War II, and relations between mainlanders and ethnic Taiwanese were often strained.
Separated by language and lifestyle, incidents of intimidation and confrontation between the parties were frequent.
Many mainland youths, concentrated in major cities, have joined violent organized crime gangs linked to the Chinese military and secret societies, in part to defend themselves against their Taiwanese rivals.
The Presbyterian Church is the largest of the Christian denominations in Taiwan and was closely identified with the pro-democracy movement for decades of the martial law era and later with the cause of Taiwan independence.