Suspected gunman in Taiwanese church shooting faces new federal hate crime charges

In a sweeping new federal indictment, a Las Vegas man accused of killing one person and injuring five others last year at a Taiwanese Presbyterian church in Orange County has been charged with hate crimes, murder and attempted murder, prosecutors announced Thursday.

David Chou, 69, was charged by a federal grand jury in Santa Ana with 98 counts for the May 2022 shooting and attempted bombing at Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods.

Chou, a former casino security guard, is accused of killing John Cheng, 52, and attempting to kill 44 others with guns and explosive devices. Five people were injured by the gunfire.

Chou's deadly assault was premised on the victims' national origin and religion, federal prosecutors alleged. If convicted on all counts, Chou could face the death penalty or life imprisonment without parole.

Chou, who has pleaded not guilty to related state charges in Orange County, was charged in the federal case with 45 counts of obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs by force for killing one person and trying to murder 44 others.

The indictment also charged him with 45 counts of violating a federal hate crimes law by attacking church congregants because of their Taiwanese national origin and Presbyterian faith.

Chou faces one count of trying to damage or destroy a building with fire and explosives, one count of carrying explosives during the commission of a felony and six counts of using a firearm during a crime of violence.

It was not immediately clear whether Chou would be tried first on the state or federal charges. Chou's lawyer could not be reached.

In the Orange County case, Chou faces state charges of murder, attempted murder and other felonies. In that case, too, he could face the death penalty if convicted. Orange County prosecutors have charged the murder as a hate crime motivated by race, color, religion, nationality or country of origin.

A sidewalk memorial outside the Laguna Woods church where a gunman shot six people in May 2022.
A sidewalk memorial outside the Laguna Woods church where a gunman shot six people in May 2022, killing one of them and injuring the other five. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

The backdrop of both the state and federal cases is tension between China and Taiwan, which leaders in Beijing consider a breakaway province.

Chou left notes in his car saying Taiwan should not be independent from China, according to local law enforcement. Chou grew up in Taiwan as a waishengren — a person with recent roots in China.

The Presbyterian Church in Taiwan is known for its support of pro-independence causes, and the Irvine congregation's services are in the Taiwanese dialect. The parishioners gather in space that the church rents at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods.

On May 15, 2022, Orange County prosecutors say, Chou walked into the church with two 9-millimeter handguns and several backpacks that contained extra magazines and four Molotov cocktails.

He allegedly chained several doors shut, then mingled with parishioners at a luncheon before opening fire, striking Cheng and five others, prosecutors say.

Cheng, a sports medicine doctor, was not a church regular but had brought his mother to the luncheon, which honored a former longtime pastor.

Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes has said that Cheng charged at the shooter and attempted to disarm him.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.