Taiwanese Church Shooting Motivated by Sino-Taiwanese Tensions

Dr. Cheng is a smiling man in a lab coat.
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Dr. Cheng is a smiling man in a lab coat.
Dr. Cheng, who was murdered in the shooting while subduing the gunman.

By: Emily Andrews

LAGUNA WOODS, CA — On Monday May 17, authorities confirmed that the Sunday shooting at a Taiwanese church in Laguna Woods that left one person dead and five injured was politically motivated by tensions between China and Taiwan.

The killer, David Chou, 68, opened fire on Sunday at a lunch gathering of elderly church-goers of the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, who met at the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods. 

According to statements by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, investigators believe that Chou may have traveled to Southern California on Saturday, May 14. He entered the church to which authorities said he had no ties, and allegedly attended the church service and mingled with the church-goers for about 40 minutes. Then, he secured the doors with chains and placed superglue into the keyholes, and opened fire.

The guests were celebrating the return of a pastor from a mission trip to Taiwan and were taking photos when Chou began shooting.

Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes recounted the bravery of the church-goers, explaining how, despite the fact that many of the guests were elderly, they risked their lives in order to confront the gunman. 

“They acted spontaneously, heroically, and if not for their quick action, the way that this individual set up that environment, to kill many more people, there would have been many, many more lives lost,” Barnes said.

The murdered victim, Dr. John Cheng, 52, a sports medicine doctor, was found and pronounced dead at the scene with multiple gunshot wounds. Witnesses said that he intervened and tackled Chou so that other church members could detain the shooter, and was fatally wounded as a result.

After Dr. Cheng sacrificed himself to distract the gunman, a former pastor, Billy Chang, threw a chair at Chou, and others then rushed and hogtied him.

The other five wounded victims are expected to fully recover.

At the scene, two 9mm semi-automatic pistols were found, which Chou had bought in Las Vegas in 2015 and 2017.

Alongside the guns, investigators also found three bags placed around the building containing items including ammunition and four Molotov cocktail-type devices. 

Chou was booked into jail with recommended charges of one felony count of murder and five felony counts of attempted murder, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. His arraignment will commence on June 10, 2022.

The murdered victim, Dr. Cheng, had been at the church in order to drop off his mother at the luncheon. He was honored by a school mass at Santa Margarita Catholic High School, where his two children attend. 

A statement by the South Coast Medical Group—a group Dr. Cheng was a leader in—said, “His heroism saved so many people NOT only at that church but throughout his career. Dr. Cheng’s courageous act to move as fast as he did to save lives is no shock.  He will forever be remembered as OUR HERO.” The page features a Gofundme by Stefanie Huie on behalf of Dr. Cheng’s family.

Barnes said of Dr. Cheng in the police statement, “Dr. Cheng was a loving family man, dedicated doctor and a beloved member of our community, and we send our deepest condolences to all who knew him. There is no doubt that Dr. Cheng’s actions that day saved the lives of many other church members. He is a hero and will be remembered by this community as such.”

On May 17, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department released an updated statement that the shooter, Chou, was born and raised in Taiwan, but had a hatred for it due to the political tensions between Taiwan and China. 

Prior to the shooting, Chou sent a seven-volume diary to a Chinese newspaper at the World Journal office in Monterey Park Los Angeles, entitled “Diary of an Angel Destroying Independence.”

Tensions between China and Taiwan center around the fact that Taiwan recognizes itself as an independent country apart from China. However, the Republic of China maintains that they still officially have control over Taiwan as their territory after they took control of the island from the Empire of Japan in 1945. 

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About The Author

Jordan Varney received a masters from UC Davis in Psychology and a B.S. in Computer Science from Harvey Mudd. Varney is editor in chief of the Vanguard at UC Davis.

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