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Authorities: Laguna Woods church shooter also had explosives, chained and glued doors to keep people inside

OC District Attorney Todd Spitzer describes chilling scene at Laguna Woods church
OC District Attorney Todd Spitzer describes chilling scene at Laguna Woods church 02:25

The gunman who unleashed terror at a church in Laguna Woods on Sunday not only had two legally purchased handguns, he came armed with explosives, additional ammunition, and strategically sealed as many exits as possible, authorities said Monday.

In a news conference Monday, Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes described the gunman, identified as 68-year-old David Chou of Las Vegas, as prepared and "very intentional" in his plan to kill several people at Geneva Presbyterian Church, where members of the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church had just finished their service and were holding a banquet in honor of a visiting pastor.

"We know that he was very intentional in his plan. We know that he formulated a strategy that he wanted to employ. It was very well thought-out, from how he had prepared both being there, securing the locations, placing things about the inside of t he room to perpetuate additional victims if he had the opportunity," Barnes said.

The suspect, a longtime Las Vegas security guard and U.S. citizen, had driven to Orange County on Saturday. While it is unclear what he did between his arrival and the attack on the church, authorities say it's apparent that he was prepared to kill a large number of people. 

Most of the elderly members of the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church remained after services ended to attend a banquet held in the social hall of Geneva Presbyterian Church. Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said there was a large stage with a black curtain, and 10 tables set up with tablecloths and red solo cups.

"You could tell that havoc had been created in that space," Spitzer said. "There was turned over containers of popcorn. A person left their walker, a cane on the table, because it was obvious from the scene that they had to get out of there as quickly as possible in an utmost panic."

Spitzer said he specifically mentioned the large black curtain because the suspect hid several bags behind it — two bags containing molotov cocktail-like explosives, and two more with additional magazines and ammunition.

And even more chillingly, Barnes says the suspect made an effort to trap as many people in the social hall as possible.

"Multiple locations had been chained shut, multiple entrances that had been tampered with or tried to prevent entry because of super glue, they were added to the locks," Barnes said. "At least one door, he attempted to nail shut as well."

When he began shooting, he managed to wound five people, ranging in ages from 66 to 92 years old. That was when sports physician Dr. John Cheng tackled him, getting fatally shot himself, but likely saving the lives of the rest of the people in that social hall.

"One of the youngest congregants there yesterday, Dr. Cheng, understanding that there was elderly everywhere and they couldn't get out of  the premises because the doors had been chained," Spitzer said. "After others had been shot, he took it upon himself to charge across the room and do everything he could to disable the assailant."

Once Cheng tackled the suspect, it gave the pastor a chance to throw a chair at him and other parishioners an opening to subdue him and tie him up with an extension cord.

Laguna Woods church shooting
Laguna Woods, CA - May 15: A first responder grief counselor comforts a parishioner after a person opened fire during a church service attended by a Taiwanese congregation, killing one person and critcally injuring four others at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods Sunday, May 15, 2022. Authorities are interviewing more than 30 people who were inside the church at the time. The victims were described as mostly Asian and mostly of Taiwanese descent, authorities said. A law enforcement source said officials believe the suspect was a 68-year-old Asian man who is originally from Las Vegas. The source said after the suspect opened fire he was subdued by parishioners. No other details were available. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images) Allen J. Schaben

"I wanna really emphasize that the majority of the people in attendance were elderly, and they acted spontaneously, heroically," Barnes said. "If not for their quick actions, the way this individual set up that environment to kill many more people, there would have been many more lives lost if not for the concerted effort for the members of that church."

According to the ATF, the two handguns recovered at the scene were purchased legally in Las Vegas. Both were 9mm semi-automatic pistols, one purchased in 2015, and the other in 2017. 

The FBI says they have recovered evidence that the suspect was motivated by bias against the Taiwanese people.

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