Gunman in California church shooting mailed diaries to Chinese-language newspaper before attack

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The gunman in a hate-fueled shooting attack at a Southern California church sent copies of a diary to a Chinese-language media outlet before he fatally shot a parishioner and wounded five others, the newspaper that received the package reported.

The World Journal reported Wednesday that David Chou, 68, who is facing murder and attempted murder charges in connection with the shooting, mailed seven copies of photocopied documents and flash drives to its office in the Los Angeles suburb of Monterey Park.

The documents were titled “Diary of an Angel of Destroying Independence,” but the newspaper did not report its contents. The media outlet turned the documents over to police, according to its report. A photo accompanying the report showed multiple stacks of documents and flash drives and that the postage cost $16.10.

Maxwell Lin, an attorney for the World Journal, told the Los Angeles Times the package arrived Tuesday morning with Chou’s name and a Las Vegas address. Lin told the Times he didn’t think anyone at the newspaper had read through all the documents nor could he confirm whether police had received the documents.

Orange County Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Carrie Braun told USA TODAY the department was “aware of the documents” but did not say whether they had received them. The department was working its investigation in tandem with the FBI, Braun said.

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Chou is accused of opening fire as older parishioners gathered at an afternoon luncheon for a former pastor of the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods.

Dr. John Cheng, 52, was killed in the attack when he tried to disarm Chou, authorities said. Five others ages 66 to 92 were wounded. The parishioners and pastor were able to disarm Chou and hogtie him before police arrived, authorities said.

Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes on Monday described the shooting as “a politically motivated hate incident” and said it was driven by “a grievance that this individual had between himself and the Taiwanese community at-large.” Authorities said it was unclear why Chou targeted that church specifically. He had been living in Las Vegas before driving to Southern California for the attack.

Chou was born in Taiwan, the sheriff’s department said, but his parents were from China and among a wave of people forced to move after 1948, according to Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer. Amid the Chinese Civil War, those with a similar background came to be known as “waishengren,” or those “born outside” and often identify as Chinese rather than Taiwanese.

Barnes said investigators found handwritten notes in Chou’s car supporting their belief that hatred of Taiwan fueled the attack. “I believe his hatred of Taiwan manifested when he was residing there in previous years, possibly in his youth,” Barnes said. 

Taiwan, officially called the Republic of China, was established in 1949 and considers itself an independent nation. China, however, sees Taiwan, just 125 miles off its southeastern coast, as a breakaway province. Tensions between the two are at its highest in decades, and Beijing has stepped up its military presence by flying fighter jets toward the self-governing island.

Kristi Johnson, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, said a federal hate crime investigation into the shooting had been opened. Chou could face life in prison or the death penalty if convicted of murder and attempted murder. He faces other charges but did not enter a plea at his first court appearance this week. He is due back in court June 10.

Police said Chou was armed with two pistols when he opened fire. Ammunition and Molotov cocktails were also found at the scene, and authorities said Chou tried to secure the doors of the church with chains, nails and superglue.

Spitzer said a “lying in wait” enhancement was added to Chou’s murder charge as a result of Chou attempting to conceal himself within the congregation before the shooting.

“He did everything he could to fit in, to make himself one of them,” Spitzer said. “We typically think of the person who hides in the bushes. … This case is about the person concealing themselves in plain view.”

Cheng charged Chou before he was fatally shot, and Barnes called his heroism in attempting to stop the gunman “a meeting of good versus evil.” 

Contributing: Cady Stanton, USA TODAY; Mary Chao, USA TODAY Network; Associated Press