A gunman motivated by political hatred against Taiwan chained shut the doors of a California church and hid firebombs inside before shooting at a gathering of mostly elderly Taiwanese parishioners, killing a man who tackled him and possibly saved dozens of lives, authorities said Monday.
The 68-year-old gunman is a U.S. citizen who grew up in Taiwan and drove from Las Vegas to Orange County on Saturday, authorities said. The next day, he attended a lunch held by Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, which worships at Geneva Presbyterian Church in the community of Laguna Woods. Though he knew no one there, he spent about an hour mingling with about 40 attendees and then executed his plot, authorities said at a news conference.
Authorities said the gunman chained the doors and put super glue in the keyholes. He had two 9 mm handguns — legally purchased years ago in Las Vegas — and three bags, containing among other things four Molotov-cocktail-type incendiary devices and extra ammunition. He opened fire and in the ensuing chaos Dr. John Cheng, 52, tackled him, allowing other parishioners to subdue him and tie him up with extension cords.
Cheng died and five people were wounded, the oldest 92. Sheriff Don Barnes called Cheng's heroism “a meeting of good versus evil" that probably saved the lives “of upwards of dozens of people.”
The gunman, who for years worked as a security guard, was booked on suspicion of murder and attempted murder and jailed on $1 million bail. He was expected to appear in state court Tuesday. It was not immediately clear whether he had an attorney who could speak on his behalf. A federal hate crimes investigation is also ongoing.
Barnes said the motive for the shooting was hatred toward Taiwan that was documented in handwritten notes that authorities found. The gunman's family apparently was among many forcibly removed from mainland China to Taiwan sometime after 1948, Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said.
Relations between mainlanders forced to flee a Communist takeover and native Taiwanese were frequently tense as the new arrivals crowded into slums and military communities. Separated by language and lifestyle, bullying and confrontation were frequent as President Chiang Kai-shek tightly restricted civil liberties under nearly four decades of martial law.
Barnes said the gunman acted alone and was “not believed to be associated with any specific church or any religion, and there’s no direct connection to the church or any member of the church that we’re aware of."
Those wounded by gunshots included an 86-year-old woman as well as four men, ages 66, 75, 82 and 92, the sheriff’s department said. Authorities on Monday said two of the wounded were in good condition, two were in stable condition and the status of the fifth patient was undetermined.
Additional reporting by The Associated Press.