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Suspect charged in fatal shooting at California church | State and Region

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SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — Prosecutors have charged the suspect in the California church shooting with one count of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder.

Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer also announced on Tuesday that David Chou, 68, of Las Vegas faces an upgrade for “waiting,” as well as four counts of possession of a drug. destructive devices intended to kill or injure. The arraignment is expected later Tuesday.

“We usually think of the person hiding in the bushes,” Spitzer said. “This case is about the person hiding in plain sight.”

If convicted of the charges against him and a jury finds the enhancements to be true, Chou faces life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty, Spitzer said.

“Although there is currently very strong evidence that this was motivated by hate, we want to make sure that we have gathered all the evidence that supports this theory in the case,” Spitzer said, when asked. whether he would file a hate complaint. criminality.

Chou is accused of opening fire at a Sunday lunch for members of the Taiwanese Presbyterian Church of Irvine, which worships at the Geneva Presbyterian Church in the community of Laguna Woods.

Chou traveled to Orange County on Saturday and attended lunch the next day. Although he didn’t know anyone there, he spent about an hour mingling with about 40 attendees and then carried out his plot, authorities said at a news conference.

He chained the doors and put super glue in the keyholes, authorities said. He had two 9mm handguns – bought legally years ago in Las Vegas – and three bags, containing among other things four Molotov cocktail-type incendiary devices and additional ammunition. He opened fire and in the ensuing chaos Dr. John Cheng, 52, tackled him, allowing other parishioners to subdue him and tie him up with extension cords, authorities said.

Cheng died and five people were injured, including an 86-year-old woman and four men, ages 66, 75, 82 and 92, the sheriff’s department said. Authorities said Monday that two of the injured were in good condition, two were in stable condition and the status of the fifth patient was undetermined.

Sheriff Don Barnes called Cheng’s heroism a “combination of good versus evil” that likely saved the lives “of more than dozens of people”.

Investigators are trying to determine if the church in Laguna Woods, a scenic coastal area populated primarily by retirees and near a large gated community, was a random target, Spitzer said.

“This general population created a vulnerable environment for them to achieve what I believe was their ultimate goal, which was to execute as many people in this room in cold blood as possible,” he said.

Barnes called Chou an immigrant from China, but Taiwan’s Central News Agency said it interviewed Louis M. Huang, general manager of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Los Angeles, and he confirmed that Chou was born in Taiwan in 1953.

Barnes said Chou’s hatred of Taiwan was documented in handwritten notes found by authorities. Chou’s family was apparently among many forcibly deported from mainland China to Taiwan shortly after 1948, Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said.

Tensions between China and Taiwan are at their highest in decades, with Beijing stepping up its military harassment by flying fighter jets to the self-governing island. China has not ruled out the force to reunite with Taiwan, which broke away from the mainland in a civil war in 1949.

Chou had ties to an organization opposed to Taiwan independence from China, according to Taiwanese media.

Relations between mainlanders forced to flee a communist takeover and ethnic Taiwanese were often strained as newcomers crowded into slums and military communities. Separated by language and lifestyle, bullying and confrontations were common as President Chiang Kai-shek severely curtailed civil liberties under nearly four decades of martial law.

The Presbyterian Church is the largest of the Christian denominations in Taiwan and has been closely identified with the pro-democracy movement during the martial law era and later with the cause of Taiwan independence.

Barnes said Chou acted alone and was “not meant to be associated with any specific church or religion, and there is no direct connection to the church or any member of the church to Our knowledge”.

Taiwan’s Chief Representative to the United States, Bi-khim Hsiao, offered his condolences on Twitter.

“I join the families of the victims and the grieving Taiwanese American communities and pray for the speedy recovery of the injured survivors,” Hsiao wrote on Sunday.

Chinese embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu told the AP by email that the Chinese government has “constantly condemned incidents of violence. We express our condolences to the victims and our sincere condolences to the bereaved families and the injured.

Jerry Chen, a longtime member of the church, said a group of about 40 congregants gathered in the communion hall for lunch after a morning service to welcome their former pastor Billy Chang, a beloved and respected community member who had served the church for 20 years. Chang returned to Taiwan two years ago. It was his first time returning to the United States, Chen said.

Everyone had just finished lunch and were taking pictures with Chang when Chen walked into the kitchen. It was then that he heard the gunshots.

Barnes said Cheng, a sports medicine doctor who is survived by a wife and two children, blamed the shooter and tried to disarm him, allowing others to intervene. Chang hit the shooter in the head with a chair before other parishioners overpowered him.

Balmore Orellana, a former neighbor, said Chou’s life fell apart after his wife left him last year. Spitzer said the suspect’s wife was terminally ill and in Taiwan. He couldn’t tell if she was alive or dead.

Before, Chou was a nice guy who owned the Las Vegas apartment building where he lived until he was evicted in February, Orellana told The Associated Press.

Records show the four-unit property sold last October for just over $500,000. Orellana said Chou’s wife used the money from the sale to move to Taiwan.

Before Orellana moved in about five years ago, Chou suffered a head injury and other serious injuries in an attack by a tenant, the neighbor said. More recently his sanity has declined and last summer a gun was fired inside Chou’s apartment and the bullet entered Orellana’s apartment, although no one had been injured, Orellana said.

The shooting came a day after an 18-year-old man shot and killed 10 people in Buffalo, New York, in a racist rampage where the white shooter allegedly targeted a supermarket in a predominantly black neighborhood.

Associated Press reporters John Antczak in Los Angeles, Ken Ritter in Las Vegas and Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington contributed to this story. News researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed from New York.

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