A man armed with two handguns opened fire at Taiwanese church banquet in southern California Sunday before he was overpowered and hogtied by congregants during the afternoon attack that left one victim dead and four people critically injured, authorities said. A fifth victim suffered minor injuries.
“We believe a group churchgoers detained him and hogtied his legs with an extension cord and confiscated at least two weapons from him,” Orange County Undersheriff Jeff Hallock said at an afternoon press conference following the bloodshed at the event hosted by the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, a congregation that gathers at the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods. “That group of churchgoers displayed what we believe is exceptional heroism and bravery in intervening to stop the suspect. They undoubtedly prevented additional injuries and fatalities.”
Accused gunman David Wenwei Chou, 68, faces one count of murder in addition to five counts of attempted murder and murder with the special circumstance of the use of a gun and lying in wait, Orange County District Atty. Todd Spitzer said at a press conference Tuesday. Chou was also charged with four counts of possession of destructive devices with intention to kill or harm.
On Monday, Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes called the shooting a “politically motivated hate incident,” noting there was evidence that Chou — who was born and raised in Taiwan — held anti-Taiwanese political views. (According to social media posts, Chou was also roommates with MAGA activist and white supremacist Jourdin Davis.) While the FBI is investigating the incident, per The Los Angeles Times, California authorities have yet to file hate crime charges against Chou. “While there’s very strong evidence right now that this was motivated by hate, we want to make sure that we have put together all the evidence that confirms that theory,” Spitzer said Tuesday.
The shooting at the church campus about 40 miles southeast of Los Angeles was reported at 1:26 p.m. Sunday, with first responders arriving at the scene within minutes to find the suspect already subdued, Hallock said. Authorities did not immediately identify the victims.
The luncheon was honoring a former pastor of the Taiwanese congregation, according to a Facebook statement from Tom Cramer, a co-executive of the Presbytery of Los Ranchos, a church administrative body. “Please keep the leadership of the Taiwanese congregation and Geneva in your prayers as they care for the those traumatized by this shooting,” Cramer said.
The Sunday rampage followed just a day after 10 people were shot and killed in a mass shooting at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York. That incident was quickly ruled a racially motivated hate crime after the white, 18-year-old gunman live-streamed himself hunting down mostly Black victims with an assault weapon with a racist slur written on the barrel.
“Today is a very dark day for the people of Laguna Woods and Orange County,” Lisa Bartlett, an Orange County supervisor, said at the Sunday afternoon press conference. “Just a day after the tragic and hate-filled actions that led to the senseless deaths of Americans at the Tops Friendly Markets [store] in Buffalo, New York, we too are now dealing with people shot in their place of worship.”
This story was updated on 5/17/2022 at 8:41 p.m. EST to add information about charges filed against the alleged shooter.