Prosecutors have added hate crime allegations to attempted murder charges filed against a suspect who opened fire at a Taiwanese American church luncheon last month in the US.
The suspect allegedly attacked a gathering of members of the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods.
At a news conference after the incident, Sheriff Donald Barnes said Mr Chou, originally from China, had acted alone and was motivated by anger over political tensions between China and Taiwan. He had no apparent ties to the church.
In addition to being armed with two handguns, officials alleged Mr Chou locked church doors with chains, attempted to superglue locks and tried to nail at least one door shut. Magazines of ammunition and incendiary devices were found at the scene, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Mr Chou was tackled shortly after the gunfire erupted by one of the churchgoers, Dr John Cheng. Authorities said the 52-year-old husband, who died from a gunshot wound while charging at the accused shooter, likely saved the lives of dozens.
The suspect was initially booked on one felony count of murder and five felony counts of attempted murder. However, prosecutors on Friday added hate crime allegations to the mix.
In May, the FBI opened a federal hate crime investigation into the shooting, according to Kristi Johnson, assistant director in charge of the bureau’s Los Angeles office.
Authorities said that part of what supported their theory were the notes they found in Chou’s car, where he’d indicated that he didn’t believe Taiwan should be independent from China.
Communist-ruled China, a country that views democratic Taiwan as a breakaway province, has ramped up calls for unification in recent years while the island nation – which the US does not have diplomatic relations with but shares “a robust unofficial relationship” with – continues to challenge the mainland’s influence.
Community members said they were shocked such violence had come into their community.
“I could not even imagine something like this could happen here,” Charlotte Hsieh, an organist at the church, who left about an hour-and-a-half before the shooting started, told The New York Times. “I’m just as shocked as anybody.”
The shooting came just a day after 10 people were killed in a white supremacist mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York in May.
“This is upsetting and disturbing news, especially less than a day after a mass shooting in Buffalo,” US representative Katie Porter, whose district is nearby, wrote on Twitter at the time. “This should not be our new normal. I will work hard to support the victims and their families.”