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Man Charged In Attack On Taiwanese American Church In Laguna Woods Is Now Facing Federal Hate Crime Charges Too

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 federal grand jury in Orange County has indicted the man who allegedly attacked a Taiwanese American church last year on nearly 100 counts of federal hate crimes and weapons and explosives offenses.

The allegations

Prosecutors say David Chou traveled from Las Vegas to target the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in the small bedroom community of Laguna Woods.

Chou, 69, is charged with killing Dr. John Cheng, a sports medicine physician who had attempted to stop the May 15, 2022 attack. He is also charged with attempting to kill 44 others with firearms and explosive devices. Five people were wounded.

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Investigators said they had recovered writings by Chou, himself Taiwanese American, in which he expressed anger about Taiwan-China relations. Chou aligned himself with China, which lays claim to the self-ruled democratic island, in the writings.

What authorities say about the motive

It’s not clear why the church in Laguna Woods was targeted. But the Presbyterian church in Taiwan is known for supporting the pro-democracy movement. Its sister churches in the U.S. hold services in Taiwanese Hokkien.

“Chou allegedly acted because of the victims’ national origin and religion, and he intentionally obstructed the victims’ religious exercise,” the Department of Justice said in a statement Thursday.

The indictment charges Chou with 98 violations of federal law, including 45 counts of obstructing free exercise of religious beliefs by force, and 45 hate crime counts for allegedly attacking the congregants because of their Taiwanese national origin and Presbyterian faith. He was also charged with several firearms violations.

Chou, who has been in state custody since the attack, has pleaded not guilty to state charges in Orange County.

What we know about David Chou

Chou, who emigrated to the U.S. as an adult, came of age in Taiwan after Chinese nationalists had fled to the island after losing the Chinese civil war to the Communists.

Chou grew up in a family of these Chinese newcomers who saw Taiwan as a part of China. While these waishengren — “people from outside the province” in Mandarin Chinese — wielded greater political and economic clout in their adopted home, there were tensions with long-time residents of Taiwan, or benshengren. Chou claimed to have been mistreated when he lived on the island.

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In the year since Chou’s attack, members of the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church have continued to hold services in their rented space at the Geneva Presbyterian Church.

John Cheng's heroism

A person stands with flowers near a photo of a doctor in a white coat and light tie with flowers stacked on the sidewalk and a wreath hanging on a post.
A makeshift memorial honors Dr. John Cheng outside his office on May 18, 2022 in Aliso Viejo.
(Mario Tama
Getty Images)

Cheng’s extensive network of friends and colleagues have rallied around the doctor’s surviving wife and two children.

Cheng was recently honored at the Orange County Sheriff’s Medal of Valor ceremony.

Sheriff’s officials say that Cheng charged Chou after he opened fire in a Laguna Woods banquet hall, sacrificing his life while saving others.

“Without the actions of Dr. Cheng, it is no doubt that there would be numerous additional victims in this crime,” Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes told a news conference the day after the attack.

A church elder said Thursday that those wounded in the attack are largely recovered.

Have a question about Southern California's Asian American communities?
Josie Huang reports on the intersection of being Asian and American and the impact of those growing communities in Southern California.

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