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Criminal Justice

OC Church Shooter's Potential Motive: Hatred Of Taiwan. More On What We Know So Far

Flowers lay on the ground. A note attached reads, "To our Taiwanese family:" followed by several characters in a foreign language.
Flowers and notes are seen at a makeshift memorial outside the Geneva Presbyterian Church May 16, 2022 after one person was killed and five injured during a shooting May 15 at the church in Laguna Woods, California.
(Robyn Beck
AFP via Getty Images)
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A shooter killed one man and critically wounded four other people at a Taiwanese congregation's church lunch banquet Sunday in Laguna Woods, according to the Orange County Sheriff's Department.

The man who was killed has been identified as Dr. John Cheng, 52, and the alleged shooter has been identified as David Wenwei Chou, 68 — a U.S. citizen who was born in Taiwan and immigrated to the U.S. as an adult. Evidence collected by law enforcement indicates that Chou identifies as Chinese and was allegedly motivated by a hatred for Taiwanese people, according to law enforcement authorities.

What Else You Should Know

  • Cheng charged the suspect and attempted to disarm him — congregants subsequently subdued, disarmed, and tied up the shooter. A pastor from the congregation threw a chair at the shooter before he was subdued.
  • The Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church lunch was attended by between 30 and 40 churchgoers from the congregation, held at Geneva Presbyterian Church. Those who were shot ranged in age from 52 to 92.
  • Authorities are unaware of any direct connection between the alleged shooter and members of the congregation.

What We Know About Alleged Shooter David Wenwei Chou

Chou is an American citizen and a Las Vegas resident. His wife currently lives in Taiwan. When Chou lived in Taiwan, he was not "well- received" there, according to OC Sheriff Don Barnes. Calling it a "politically motivated hate incident," law enforcement officials said Chou was apparently motivated by a "hatred" of the Taiwanese people.

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Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes, wearing his green uniform with four stars on the lapels, stands at a podium that has a large replica Sheriff's badge mounted on the front. Two other uniformed officers stand behind him, along with a woman who is partially obscured. A large photo of a doctor in a white lab coat is beside the podium on an easel.
Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes at a press conference held Monday in the aftermath of Sunday's shooting at a lunch banquet held by the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church.
(Robert Garrova

Among other details shared by law enforcement officials at a noon press conference:

Chou worked as a security guard and previously lived in other parts of the country, including Texas. He isn't believed by authorities to be associated with any specific church or religion.

Chou mingled with churchgoers at the luncheon before opening fire. While at the luncheon, Chou allegedly secured the doors of the church with chains and attempted to disable locks using superglue.

Both semi-automatic pistols retrieved at the scene were legally purchased. Several bags were found in the church that contained four Molotov cocktail-like incendiary devices and additional ammo.

Chou allegedly traveled from Las Vegas to Orange County on Saturday.

He faces potential charges up to death, or life in prison without parole. A federal hate crimes investigation has been opened, which will help determine what federal charges are brought in this case.

What We Know About Victim Dr. John Cheng

A posterboard-sized photo propped up on an easel shows a doctor wearing a lab coat. The photo is captioned John Cheng, DOB 6/16/69
Dr. John Cheng was fatally shot during an attack on a lunch banquet at a church in Laguna Woods.
(Robert Garrova

Cheng, not a regular parishioner with the congregation, was attending the luncheon with his mother, according to the Taiwan Church News Network.

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"Understanding that there was elderly everywhere and they couldn’t get out of the premises because the doors had been chained," Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said, "he took it upon himself to charge across the room and to do everything he could to disable the assailant."

Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes described Cheng as a hero, with his actions helping to prevent others from being shot while ultimately costing him his own life. Barnes credited Cheng's actions with likely saving the lives of "upwards of dozens of people."

A doctor, Cheng was noted for his "kind manner," according to South Coast Medical Group's website. He studied at Texas Tech School of Medicine and completed his residency and fellowship at the University of California at Los Angeles and Kaiser Programs in Family and Sports Medicine.

Cheng was a family physician focusing in sports medicine. He was also a kung fu martial arts instructor, a father of two, and had served as team physician for several local high schools.

The Parishioners

Flowers and notes are seen at a makeshift memorial outside the Geneva Presbyterian Church May 16, 2022 after one person was killed and five injured during a shooting May 15, 2022 at the church in Laguna Woods, California.
(Robyn Beck
AFP via Getty Images)

Orange County Undersheriff Jeff Hallock also praised the rest of the parishioners who subdued Chou.

"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," Hallock said.

Chou's life unraveled after he was nearly beaten to death several years ago, former neighbor Balmore Orellana told the Associated Press. Chou had previously owned the apartment building he lived in, but after a tenant attacked him and gave him a head injury and several injuries to his body, he sold the building. After Chou fired a gun inside his apartment last summer, he was evicted, according to Orellana.

Orellana added that Chou's mental ability had seemed to diminish recently, that he was angry about not receiving help in his retirement from the government, and that he may have been homeless.

The Possible Motive

China and Taiwan have longstanding political tensions, with China continuing to claim Taiwan as part of China while other nations around the world have recognized Taiwan as an independent nation. Preliminary information shows that Chou was believed to be "upset" about political tensions between China and Taiwan, according to authorities. That includes notes regarding "his hatred of the Taiwanese people" left in his car, according to Barnes.

Read more about the story and the political tensions that may have motivated the shooting from LAist reporter Josie Huang.

Incidents of racism and violence directed at Asian Americans have been on the rise, in particular during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was one of five mass shootings that took place across the nation this weekend and one of 202 that have taken place so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, an independent data collection organization. The group defines mass shootings as incidents where four or more people are shot or killed in gun violence, excluding the shooter.

The deadliest mass shooting of the year also occurred this weekend in Buffalo, N.Y., when a man opened fire and killed 10 people at a supermarket in a neighborhood with a large Black population. Authorities say that shooter, who followed racist ideologies, was specifically targeting Black victims.

How We're Reporting On This

Reporter Robert Garrova is covering the aftermath of this shooting and reporter Josie Huang is covering the political situation between China and Taiwan. Associate Editor Mike Roe and other members of the LAist team are providing additional research and reporting on the shooting, as well as monitoring news conferences.

What Questions We're Asking

  • The names of those who were shot
  • More details about the timeline of the shooting

Learn more

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