A Las Vegas man accused of killing a doctor and injuring five others in a shooting at a Laguna Woods church last month has now been charged with hate crime enhancements, officials announced Friday.
David Wenwei Chou, 68, was already charged with murder, premeditated attempted murder, possession of an explosive device, and felony enhancements of lying in wait and personal discharge of a firearm causing death in connection with the May 15 attack at Geneva Presbyterian Church on El Toro Road.
Following the shooting, Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes described the attack as being “politically motivated,” saying that there was evidence that Chou was targeting the Taiwanese community.
“It is believed the suspect involved was upset about political tensions between China and Taiwan,” the sheriff said at the time.
Now, prosecutors have amended the complaint to add the five hate crime enhancements, saying that Chou “intentionally killed his victim because of his race, color, religion, nationality, or country of origin.”
“After a review of additional evidence in this case, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office has filed an amended criminal complaint to include hate crime allegations,” DA Todd Spitzer said in a statement.
Chou faces a maximum sentence of death if convicted on all charges.
The attack happened during a lunch banquet after morning service at the church, where around 50 people were gathered. They were members of the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, which was using the church for its services.
As the festivities went on, the gunman entered the church, mingled with congregants and then “methodically” placed bags of Molotov cocktails and ammunition around the hall, secured the doors with chains and tried to disable locks with superglue, the sheriff said.
With the parishioners trapped inside, he then opened fire, striking multiple people.
In an effort to stop the rampage, 52-year-old Dr. John Cheng tackled the gunman.
Cheng, who was described as a “hero,” was then shot and killed in the process of taking down the attacker, the sheriff said.
Five other people were also struck by gunfire, including an 86-year-old woman and four men aged 66, 92, 82 and 75.
The shooting came to an end when, after the doctor tackled the gunman, the church’s congregants overpowered the suspect and hog-tied him with an extension cord until first responders arrived, authorities said.
During the struggle, a pastor hit the gunman with a chair, enabling the congregants to subdue him, the sheriff said.
Deputies were able to find a door they could breach and forced entry into the church to take the suspect into custody.
Chou had driven to Orange County from Nevada the day before the attack, officials said.
After his arrest, authorities said they found notes written in Mandarin in Chou’s car that showed “hatred of the Taiwanese people.”
“I believe his hatred of Taiwan manifested when he was residing there in previous years, possibly in his youth,” Barnes said of Chou, adding that the suspect’s wife currently lives in Taiwan.
The sheriff called the attack “one of the most horrific hate crimes I’ve seen,” adding that many more people may have lost their lives if it weren’t for the actions of the doctor and other congregants.
Chou is scheduled to be arraigned on August 19. He is being held on no bail.