Geneva Presbyterian Church
An Orange County Sheriff’s cruiser outside Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods. REUTERS/David Swanson

The Las Vegas man accused of gunning down six people at a Taiwanese-American church luncheon in Orange County on Sunday was licensed to work as a security guard who carries a gun, state records in Nevada show.

David Chou was set to be arraigned on Tuesday in Orange County on charges of murder and attempted murder for allegedly killing a beloved local doctor and wounding five others.

He had worked for three different Las Vegas security firms since 2018, records seen by Reuters show, and was licensed to carry a gun in his work through October 2022.

Chou, who was being held at Orange County Central Jail on $1 million bond, drove 300 miles on Saturday from Las Vegas to Southern California, heavily armed with two semi-automatic weapons and numerous incendiary devices, police said.

He attended a church luncheon that a Taiwanese Presbyterian congregation was holding at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, a community of mostly retired people, before opening fire.

An official from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Los Angeles, the Taiwan government’s office there, told Reuters that Chou had been born in Taiwan in 1953, still had an active Taiwan passport, and had done military service for Taiwan.

But prosecutors say he hated Taiwan and had notes written in Mandarin in his car indicating that he was angry about current tensions between island nation and the Chinese mainland.

Chinese government spokesman Liu Pengyu said his country condemned incidents of violence, but urged people not to speculate on Chou’s motives until more was known.

“We express our condolences to the victims and sincere sympathy to the bereaved families and the injured,” Pengyu said. “We wish the injured an early recovery.”

Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said he was strongly considering asking for the death penalty in the case, even though California has not executed a prisoner in more than a decade.

“That suspect was ready to kill everybody in that church,” Spitzer said on CNN Tuesday. “It’s my belief that he was going to kill everybody and then blow up the church.”

FBI Opens Hate-Crime Investigation

The FBI said it was opening a hate-crimes investigation in the case. Spitzer said at a news briefing on Tuesday that he is adding an enhancement of lying in wait to the charges against Chou, and is considering also adding a hate crime enhancement.

Up to 40 people, members of a Taiwanese Presbyterian congregation from nearby Irvine were attending a luncheon honoring a former pastor when the shooting began, sheriff’s officials said.

Dr. John Cheng, 52, who was killed in the incident, was shot when he tackled the gunman, Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said, crediting Cheng’s act of bravery with preventing more fatalities.

Subduing Chou gave other congregants, including a pastor, the opportunity to overpower him and tie his legs with an electrical cord, detaining him until sheriff’s deputies arrived.

Four men ranging in age from 66 to 92 and an 86-year-old woman were wounded, the sheriff’s department said.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen was deeply concerned about the incident and has instructed the island’s foreign ministry to help the victims and their families, the ministry said on Tuesday.