David Wenwei Chou of Las Vegas has been identified by authorities as a suspect in the Laguna Woods church shooting following the Geneva Presbyterian Church shooting in California, which killed one person and wounded five others.
The Orange County Sheriff identified Chou in a statement Monday morning, May 16, 2022, saying the 68-year-old Las Vegas man was jailed for one murder and five attempted murders. Officials claim Chou entered the Geneva Presbyterian Church on May 15 during a service for the Irvine Taiwan Presbyterian Church. No one recognized him, but he claimed he had been there before, congregant Jerry Chen told the Los Angeles Times. After the service, a luncheon was held for Pastor Billy Chang, and police allege Chou opened fire as about 40 people in the church hall were finishing their meals. The pastor hit Chou with a chair when he stopped to reload, Chen told local newspapers, and the other congregants rushed to attack the gunman, disarming him and tying him in hogties with extension cords.
Deputy Sheriff Jeff Hallock said in a news conference that churchgoers arrested the suspect before police arrived and hailed them for their “extreme heroism”. He then identified Chou as an Asian man in his 60s. Hallock said they are still working to establish a motive and they don’t know if it was a “hate-related” incident. Hallock said it was not yet known if the suspect had any ties to the church and if any victims were being targeted. The intervening churchgoers were praised for preventing further deaths and injuries. Two handguns were recovered from the scene, Hallock said.
Four people suffered life-threatening injuries and one minor injury, officials said. The injured victims were taken to local hospitals and the person killed was found dead at the scene. All six victims are adults, according to the Orange County Sheriff.
The first 911 call Chen shared with the Times had officers rushing to the church, where they found one victim dead, five injured and the suspect tied to his hogties.
“Headquarters received a call at 1:26 p.m. from a shooting at the Geneva Presbyterian Church. Four victims were seriously injured, one slightly injured. All victims are adults and on their way to the hospital. One victim died at the scene of the crime,” he said The Orange County Sheriff wrote on Twitter shortly after the shooting.
Laguna Woods is a city in Orange County, bordered by Laguna Hills and Lake Forest. The city is about 10 miles from the University of California Irvine.
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The suspect was arrested, tied up and disarmed by churchgoers when the gunman opened fire, Undersheriff Jeff Hallock said in a news conference. He said parishioners had shown “extraordinary heroism and courage in intervening.”
“I think it’s safe to say that if people hadn’t intervened, it could have been a lot worse,” he said.
Authorities told the LA Times the gunman sealed the doors of the church and attacked parishioners during a lunchtime banquet before parishioners attacked him, tied him up with an extension cord and seized his two guns, authorities said.
The parishioners had just finished their lunch, which was a special teriyaki chicken bento, the LA Times reported. When shots rang out, they took photos with a pastor who was returning after two years in Taiwan.
Jerry Chen, 72, told the LA Times he was in a nearby kitchen and heard gunshots.
“I heard the gun sounds,” he told the newspaper. “Then I heard two or three shots. He just shot randomly. I saw some people fall or go under the table. I knew something was wrong. I called 911.”
The visiting pastor hit the gunman with a chair when the suspect paused to reload his gun and the congregation attacked him, Chen told the newspaper.
Authorities listed Chou’s race as Chinese in his booking information. He is 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighs 175 pounds with gray hair and brown eyes. No occupation is specified for Chou. His bail has been set at $1 million and his next court date is scheduled for May 17, 2022. Chou is currently being held at the Admissions Release Center, according to his booking information.
Here is his booking log:
Hallock told the OC Register that many of the people present at the church at the time of the shooting were of Taiwanese descent. The Irvine Taiwanese Church website says they meet at Geneva Presbyterian Church. Hallock confirmed during a press conference that a church luncheon was held after the service.
Hallock saluted the intervening churchgoers, who arrested and disarmed the suspect for their “extreme heroism and bravery”.
The Los Ranchos Presbytery said in a statement to the Orange County Register that it is “deeply saddened by a fatal shooting that took place at a lunchtime reception honoring a former pastor of the Taiwanese congregation nesting at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods.” … Please keep the leadership of the Taiwanese community and Geneva in your prayers as they care for those traumatized by this shooting.”
The newspaper reported that the church is also home to Geneva School, a Christian middle school. The OC Register reported the school “appears to have sent a message to parents informing them of Sunday’s shooting, in which they said the violence took place during ‘Taiwanese church luncheon.'”
A translation from the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church website refers to Genesis 12 and God telling Abraham to leave his homeland to go to the promised land. Pastor Li Furen compared the Bible story to the journey of parishioners from their homeland to the United States.
“Just like Abraham, a group of Puritans entered the new continent of the United States in the 17th century to seek freedom of belief and a better life. In search of their dreams, we also became new immigrants to this country in the 20th century and faced unknown people. Environmental language and culture, we have experienced many challenges and difficulties, but because of this we can better appreciate God’s wonderful guidance and rich blessings,” the translation reads.
The pastors are listed as Li Furen and Albany Lee.
“IRVINE Taiwan Presbyterian Church is one big loving family. We invite all our friends to join us with open arms. In the love of God and the grace of Jesus Christ, we hope that because we support one another, all brothers and sisters can gain more knowledge and also walk the path of life stronger and happier.”
Chen told the LA Times congregation they did not recognize the shooter. The newspaper reported: “Before the service began, members had greeted and greeted the shooter – whom they had never seen before. He told them he had attended services several times, but members were doubtful because no one recognized him, Chen said.
Hallock said in the news conference officers are working to determine if the suspect was known to the victims and if he had any ties to the church.
Members of the Geneva Presbyterian Church gathered for a service shortly before a church shooting and were told at the embassy to welcome all, including those who break religious traditions. Rev. Ryan Romeburg spoke to parishioners about tradition and challenged them to ask themselves how they feel when they hear about something “new” in a video of the sermon that was posted to Facebook and later removed. He said anything “new” could create tension among Christians because the religion is rooted in a tradition that goes back thousands of years.
The sermon was based on Revelation 21:5, “Behold, I am making all things new.”