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Shooting at California Church Likely ‘Politically Motivated’ by China-Taiwan Dispute

Chou's actions may have been driven by his opinion on whether Taiwan is its own country, or a part of the Chinese nation. 
A native of New York, Alina has a Bachelors degree in Corporate Communications from Baruch College and writes about human rights' related issues, politics, tech and society.
Published: May 17, 2022
Police tape is seen outside the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, California – the location where a shooting took place on May 15, 2022 killing one person and severely injuring five others. (Image: RINGO CHIU/AFP via Getty Images)

Taiwan-born perpetrator may have been angry about trend of erasing Chinese statehood and identity from the island

During a lunch reception at a Southern California church, a lone gunman opened fire on an unsuspecting group of at least 140 churchgoers, killing one person and critically wounding five others before being hog-tied and stopped by parishioners. 

The violence took place on Sunday, May 15 at the Geneva Presbyterian Church located in the city of Laguna Woods, Orange County — about 50 miles east of Los Angeles.

OCPD: ‘[Congregants] displayed exceptional act of bravery and heroism’

“At around 10:10 a.m., a man whom the receptionist did not recognize entered the sanctuary. He was wearing a black shirt with a word written on it in white; some believe the word on his shirt was ‘Security,'” the Orange County Police Department (OCPD) said in a statement. 

Police added that Chou had secured the doors of the church from the inside before he began shooting and was equipped with a bag of Molotov cocktails as well as extra ammunition. Deputies also seized two additional handguns and a knife at the scene. 

The person killed in the shooting was identified as John Cheng, 52, a prominent doctor specializing in sports medicine at Laguna Niguel in California. Cheng is credited with potentially having saved many lives when he tackled Chou and tried to disarm him, allowing others to jump in and help.

Cheng, who leaves behind a wife and two children, was shot several times during the struggle and died at the scene. 

A memorial for Dr. John Cheng seen outside his office in Aliso Viejo, California, May 16, 2022. (Image: ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

“Without the actions of Dr. Cheng, there is no doubt that there would be numerous additional victims in this crime,” Orange County Sheriff Donald Barnes said during a news conference held today (May 17). 

Historical complexity

David Chou, 68, was arrested on the scene as the suspected shooter in what authorities are calling a “politically-motivated hate incident.” According to various reports, Chou immigrated to the U.S. over 20 years ago from Taiwan. 

A current resident of Las Vegas, Chou was booked by Orange County police with one felony count of murder and five felony counts of attempted murder, and is currently being held on a $1 million bail. 

Although a motive for the crime was not immediately known, investigators have pointed out that the majority of those inside the church at the time of the shooting were of Taiwanese descent — prompting investigators to look into the shooting as a possible hate-crime targeting Taiwanese nationals.

Though Chou was born in Taiwan — officially the Republic of China (ROC) — in 1953, his family were among the millions of people evacuated from mainland China as the ROC fought a losing civil war with communist rebels. 

His actions may have been driven by his opinion on whether Taiwan is its own country, or a part of the Chinese nation. 

While Taiwan is officially governed as the ROC that once ruled all of China, a trend towards exclusively Taiwanese identity has been growing since the 1990s. A majority of poll respondents now say they are not Chinese and the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) currently heads the government. 

Meanwhile, the opposition Kuomintang is seen as allied with the communist People’s Republic of China (PRC), which does not recognize the ROC or an independent Taiwan, and vows to “retake” the island. The communist regime has long played up the question of nationality in its propaganda messaging, conflating the Chinese Communist Party with Chinese identity and culture.

‘Nobody can commit a crime just because they disagree with others’

Louis Huang, the Taiwanese representative in Los Angeles, said in a statement made following the shooting that, “All fellow overseas nationals of the Republic of China (Taiwan) are family, friends, or business partners … living in a free, open, and pluralistic society. I hope that everyone maintains respect for each other as we build our community.” 

As reported by Taiwan’s Apple Daily, Huang stressed that “mutual respect for each other is a value of democratic society, and freedom of speech is a right cherished by all. Nobody can commit a crime just because they disagree with others’ views.” 

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said in a Tweet posted on Tuesday, “I want to convey my sincere condolences on the death of Dr. John Cheng & my hopes for a prompt recovery for those injured in the shooting at the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in California. Violence is never the answer.”

Sunday’s church shooting unfolded amid a weekend of increased gun violence seen across the U.S., including an incident in Buffalo, New York where an 18-year-old white supremacist killed 10 people at a grocery store in a predominantly African-American neighborhood. In Los Angeles, a man died in a shooting at the Grand Central Market also on Saturday, May 14. 

Some of the patrons at the scene said they had been discussing the shooting in Buffalo when the shots started and forced them to flee for cover.