Orange County sheriff’s officials have identified David Wenwei Chou, 68, of Las Vegas as the suspect in Sunday’s shooting at the Geneva Presbyterian Church.
Chou was arrested Sunday and is being held in lieu of $1-million bail at the Orange County Intake Release Center, jail records show. His initial court appearance is scheduled for Tuesday.
Sheriff’s spokeswoman Carrie Braun said he was booked on one count of murder and five counts of attempted murder.
But authorities are still trying to determine the motive for the shooting that left one churchgoer dead and five others injured.
Investigators have obtained a warrant to search Chou’s Las Vegas home for evidence, and that search is underway, according to law enforcement sources. Shortly after Sunday’s attack, authorities reached out to the Metropolitan Police Department and federal agents in Las Vegas to help with the investigation.
The gunman arrived at the Laguna Woods church concealing two weapons, authorities said.
He seemed friendly at first, one witness said, insisting that he’d worshiped at the church in the past.
Before opening fire, he blocked the exits to prevent people inside from leaving, a law enforcement source told The Times.
It’s unclear what connection — if any — the gunman had to the Taiwanese church that was worshiping at the Laguna Woods facility that afternoon.
The shooting occurred during a lunch in a hall after the service. The event was honoring Billy Chang, who had served as pastor for 21 years until leaving in 2020 to head a congregation in Taiwan. He had returned to the church in Laguna Woods on Sunday for the luncheon in his honor.
Before the service, members greeted the gunman — whom they had never seen before — and welcomed him. He told them he had attended services several times, but the members were doubtful because no one recognized him, churchgoer Jerry Chen said.
Chen, who was inside the church at the time of the shooting, said the shooter spoke to parishioners in Taiwanese.
The son of a churchgoer said his mother was leaving the luncheon early to go to a friend’s house, when she saw a few exits locked from the outside. As she left she saw a man chaining the last door, the son recalled his mother telling him.
Peggy Huang, a Yorba Linda City Council member whose parents belong to the Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, said some members told her the man opened fire as churchgoers were taking photographs with the pastor.
She added that many church members had served in the Taiwanese military, which is required for young men.
Chen, 72, was in a nearby kitchen just before 1:30 p.m. Sunday when he heard the shots.
The pastor hit the gunman with a chair when the shooter paused to reload his weapon, Chen said, and other members of the congregation tackled him.
Authorities said they hogtied him with an extension cord, a move officials think likely saved many lives.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department recovered two commercially available handguns from the scene, officials said.
The shooting came less than a day after a racist massacre in Buffalo that left 10 dead. Orange County authorities said it’s too early to determine whether hate was a motive in this attack.
“At this time, we are working very hard to determine the motive,” said Kristi Johnson, assistant director in charge of the FBI Los Angeles office.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said the weapons recovered at the scene are commercially available. The exact types were not released.
“We’re still in the investigative phase, and so we’ll review the case and decide based on motive and the information that we get whether we present it” to state or federal prosecutors, Orange County Undersheriff Jeff Hallock said.
The Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church started in 1994 in borrowed space in another church in its namesake city. It eventually moved to another borrowed space in a Tustin church before settling at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods in 2012.
On Sundays, the Taiwanese group worships at 10 a.m.; the Geneva group gathers separately at 10:30.
The 100 or so church members, most of whom are senior citizens, worship in their native language — not Mandarin but Taiwanese, a dialect that was once suppressed by the Kuomintang regime.
The injured — four men ages 66, 92, 82 and 75, and an 86-year-old woman — were all Asian, officials said. All five were shot, and four sustained critical injuries. The man who was killed was in his 40s and was accompanying his mother to church, Huang said.
Cynthia Conners, a Geneva church member and mayor pro tem of Laguna Woods, said about 150 people usually attend the Taiwanese Sunday service, often gathering afterward for lunch.
“We considered it really lucky that they came to us,” Conners said. “We have tried to be inclusive and share many activities.”