Roommate: Church shooting suspect slams Taiwan

SANTA ANA, Calif. – The man accused of opening fire on a Southern California church staffed mostly by elderly people because of his political hatred for Taiwan recently spoke of his contempt for the island at his home, a said his roommate.

David Wenwei Chou said he felt the Taiwanese government was corrupt and didn’t like the islanders’ sympathy for the rulers, Jordin Davis of Las Vegas told The Associated Press.

“He posed as a political refugee,” Davis said.

Chou, 68, is accused of opening fire Sunday afternoon during a lunch of elderly parishioners at the Taiwanese Presbyterian Church of Irvine in the community of Laguna Woods.

A local doctor who tried to arrest him was killed and five other people were injured before Chou was overpowered by church members, authorities said.

Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said Chou was motivated by hatred of Taiwan, where he was born after his family was forced out of mainland China when communists prevailed in a civil war which ended in 1949. He apparently chose the church at random and didn’t know anyone there until he flew to California from Las Vegas on Saturday, authorities said.

Authorities said Chou’s hatred was documented in handwritten notes, but did not provide details.

Chou had his first court appearance via video link on Tuesday, but did not plead guilty to murder and attempted murder. His arraignment continued until June 10. He will be held without bond.

Chou wanted to “execute as many people in this room as possible in cold blood,” Spitzer said in announcing the charges, which include an enhanced sentence for waiting. Spitzer said he is considering hate crime charges and that federal authorities are conducting their own hate crime investigation.

If found guilty, Chou could face life in prison or the death penalty, the prosecutor said.

Chou, a US citizen who worked for years as a security guard, moved into a four-bedroom house in Las Vegas in February. Davis, her roommate, said Chou often shared her food, usually chicken dishes, and followed a routine: “come home, go to sleep, shower, go to work, and repeat.”

The two had few conversations beyond small talk or talk about Davis’ dog, Zeus, Davis said. Their conversation about Taiwan less than two weeks ago was the only time the two discussed the subject, he said.

Chou never spoke about religion but identified as a Christian and put a black duct tape cross on the roof of his car, Davis added.

Balmore Orellana, a former Las Vegas neighbor, said Chou’s life fell apart after his wife left him last year and moved back to Taiwan. Spitzer said Chou’s wife was terminally ill.

At the Church in California, Chou entered a worship service for the first time, giving the receptionist his name as “Da-Wei Chou”, and sat at the back of the sanctuary reading one of the Chinese-language newspapers provided by the church, according to a church statement released Tuesday.

Later, prosecutors said Chou spent about an hour mingling with dozens of congregation members at a luncheon honoring former church pastor Billy Chang, who had served. the church for 20 years and was returning for the first time since returning to Taiwan two years ago.

Chou was armed with two legally purchased 9mm handguns and concealed bags containing ammunition and four Molotov cocktail-type devices in the parish hall where the luncheon was being held, authorities said.

Chou wore a black shirt with a word written on it in white that some said read “Security,” according to a statement from the church.

When Chou started locking doors with chains, some departing parishioners thought he was a guard. He let them out and was later seen nailing down two more exit doors, the church said.

When the gunfire broke out, Dr. John Cheng, 52, charged Chou and was shot, but authorities said he broke up the attack and may have saved dozens of lives .

Chang, the retired pastor, said in a statement that he first thought Chou was using a toy gun as a prank. When he realized it was gunshots, Chang grabbed a chair and threw it at Chou, who fell to the ground. Chang rushed at Chou, and several members of the congregation held Chou down and tied him up.

“It was only then that I noticed that Dr Cheng was lying face down in front of me with three bloody bullet wounds in his back, not moving,” Chang said.

Cheng, who practiced sports medicine, had recently lost his father and took his mother to lunch. He was well known in the community and well liked by his patients.

The injured included an 86-year-old woman and four men ages 66 to 92, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department said. Chang said some were discharged from hospital and others were in stable condition.

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Associated Press reporters John Antczak in Los Angeles and Ken Ritter in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

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