A 68-year-old man accused of killing a doctor and injuring five other people during a shooting at a church gathering in Laguna Woods Sunday has been charged with 10 counts, the Orange County District Attorney announced Tuesday.
David Chou faces one count of first-degree murder, including an enhancement of lying in wait with the personal use of a firearm, five counts of premeditated attempted murder and four counts of possession of an explosive device. He faces an additional enhancement of personal discharge of a firearm causing death.
The defendant, who worked as a guard in Las Vegas, faces the death penalty or life without the possibility of parole. Authorities had previously said Chou was a U.S. citizen from China, but after speaking to him, they indicated that he was born and raised in Taiwan.
Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes previously called the incident “heinous” and a “politically motivated hate incident.”
Authorities allege Chou was “upset with political tensions between China and Taiwan.”
He allegedly drove to the church he had no connections to, mingled with the congregants during a lunch banquet and at some point secured doors to the church with chains and planted Molotov cocktail-type incendiary devices throughout.
“This case is about a person concealing themselves in plain view,” Attorney General Todd Spitzer said. “When the defendant went into that church, he did everything he could to fit in, to make himself one of them … He used that ruse to get in there and make that entire room feel comfortable.”
He added that Chou had the “opportunity and motive” to “execute” as many people as possible before 52-year-old Dr. John Cheng tackled him, making it possible for other congregants to subdue the suspect. Cheng, hailed a hero, was shot and killed in the process.
About 50 people were gathered for a lunch banquet at Geneva Presbyterian Church celebrating the return of a pastor when the shots rang out.
The five other people struck by gunfire were an 86-year-old woman and four men aged 66, 92, 82 and 75, officials said. The victims included a married couple.
Two 9 millimeter semi-automatic pistols were found at the scene, along with several bags that contained magazines. In Chou’s vehicle parked outside the church, authorities found notes in Mandarin that showed “hatred of the Taiwanese people.”
The FBI said they opened a federal hate crimes investigation into the incident, but Chou has not been charged with a hate crime locally.
Spitzer said that while there’s “very strong evidence” to suggest Chou was motivated by hate, authorities are still gathering evidence to confirm that.
Chou was expected to be arraigned Tuesday, but the matter was moved to June 10. He is being held without bail.
Spitzer said he is strongly considering pursuing the death penalty in the case.
In a news release Tuesday, he called the defendant a “monster.” Read his full statement below.
“This monster crafted a diabolical plan to lock the church doors with his victims inside in order to lead what he thought were innocent lambs to slaughter. But what he didn’t realize was the parishioners at the church that day weren’t lambs – they were lions and they fought back against the evil that tried to infiltrate their house of worship. Good will always win over evil and hate will not be tolerated anywhere in Orange County. Dr. John Cheng is the embodiment of everything good and he laid down his life to protect dozens of others, including his own mother. That act of pure selflessness and heroism will not be forgotten.”O.C. District Attorney Todd Spitzer