Police: Man accused in Southern California church shooting is from Las Vegas
UPDATE - 12:45 P.M.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office has revealed new details on why a Las Vegas man would drive to California and begin shooting inside a Laguna Woods church.
“He resided in Las Vegas, and we believe based on some of the evidence we collected, that he traveled from Las Vegas to the Orange County area on Saturday,” said Sheriff Don Barnes, Orange County Sheriff’s Office.
Officials said on Monday David Chou, 68, a U.S. citizen who immigrated from China, worked as a security guard in Las Vegas. They said he lives in a rented room in Las Vegas.
Investigators believe Chou was upset about political tensions between China and Taiwan.
Sheriffs are calling this “a politically-motivated hate incident.” Chou is not a regular attendee of the church, and has no known ties to church. During lunch, they said Chou secured doors within the church with chains and disabled locks with superglue.
“A person left their walker, their cane on the table. Because it was obvious from the scene that they had to get out of there as quickly as possible... I can tell you evil was in that church,” said OC District Attorney Todd Spitzer.
Throughout the church, investigators also found several incendiary devices the suspect had planted, similar to Molotov cocktails.
“Based on preliminary information in the investigation, it is believed the suspect involved was upset about political tensions between China and Taiwan,” said Barnes.
Authorities said they believe the attack was methodical and carefully planned out, with the intention to harm several dozen people.
So why did he target that church in Orange County, specifically?
“We can tell you from a national framework, the Taiwanese Presbyterian is not a large congregate location, and if you look at proximity to Vegas, this may have just been the closest in proximity based on the target of his hatred of that particular group,” said Barnes.
FOX5 made a visit to Chou’s most recently recorded address in Las Vegas Monday morning: an apartment complex. That is where we met a man who said Chou was not only his next-door neighbor, but formerly his landlord -- before he sold the building and was evicted.
He said Chou was always kind to his family, but suspects he was going through some mental issues. Last time he saw him was in February, he said.
“A week before he disappeared, he told me he was going to live in the streets, but he just didn’t know where. But he was going to do his best to live in his car,” said Balmore Orellana, who told FOX5 that he is Chou’s former neighbor and tenant in Las Vegas.
Officials said he worked security jobs in the Las Vegas valley. Orellana echoed that statement.
Orellana also told FOX5 that about five years ago, Chou was badly beaten.
“He was almost pronounced dead, I’ll say that. Someone -- previous tenants -- came in and kind of beat him up really bad to where they almost killed him. You could see the scars on his head, you could see the scars all over his arm, all over his chest,” said Orellana.
Officials said Chou purchased the guns they believe were used in the killing in the years 2015 and 2017.
“The suspect lawfully purchased the firearms in Las Vegas, Nevada. Both firearms were commercially-made, nine-millimeter caliber, semi-automatic pistols,” said Stephen Galloway, Assistant Special Agent in Charge at ATF Los Angeles.
Officials made it a point Monday to comment the members of the church, especially the victim who died, Dr. Chang. They said he jumped into action to physically restrain the suspect -- an action they said may have prevented the loss of several dozen lives.
“If not for their quick action, the way that this individual set up this environment to kill many more people, there would have been many many more lives lost if not for the concerted effort of many in that church,” said Barnes.
Authorities said Chou’s wife and son are not residing in the U.S.
“His wife had lung cancer, so she left to Taiwan. She couldn’t come back or anything like that,” said Orellana.
During the press conference, Orange County DA Todd Spitzer also read out what charges Chou is facing:
- 1 count of murder with use of gun, adding special circumstances to that charge of lying in wait
- 5 counts of attempted murder against each person who suffered gunshot wounds
- 4 counts of unlawful possession of explosives
The suspect is eligible for life without the possibility of parole or death, according to the district attorney.
Spitzer said there’s a lot of evidence that Chou had a bias against Taiwanese people. If they do add a hate crime enhancement, he said, it will be because they can prove it.
Stay with FOX5 News as this story develops.
LAS VEGAS, Nev. (FOX5) - Authorities in California announced Monday that the man accused in the Laguna Woods church shooting is from Las Vegas.
According to OC Sheriff, the man has been identified as David Chou, 68. He was booked on one felony count of murder and five felony counts of attempted murder, according to police.
Authorities said one person was killed and five elderly individuals were wounded in the Sunday afternoon shooting that occurred during a lunch banquet at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, California. According to police, worshipers were able to detain the suspect by tackling him and tying his legs with extension cords until officers arrived.
Chou is being held at the Orange County Intake Release Center on $1 million bail, according to jail records, and is scheduled to make a court appearance on Tuesday.
Authorities in Orange County will provide additional details at a noon press conference.
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