David Wenwei Chou, the 68-year-old man who allegedly killed one congregant and wounded five others when he opened fire inside a Laguna Woods church on Sunday, told his next-door neighbor that he didn’t “care about his life anymore” just months before the apparently politically motivated attack, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Chou’s life in Las Vegas was falling apart in the months leading up to the tragic event at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, nearly 300 miles away.
In December, his wife had returned to Taiwan to seek treatment for cancer but also to leave Chou in the midst of a divorce, his former neighbor, Balmore Orellana, told the newspaper.
Chou and his wife owned the apartment building they lived in, one of roughly a dozen four-plexes located about a mile west of the Las Vegas Strip, according to Orellana. He described Chou as a considerate landlord who never raised the rent in the five years Orellana and his family lived there, and said that Chou frequently asked if they needed a break with the rent when the COVID pandemic started, the Times reports.
However, Chou was “verbally aggressive” toward his wife, Orellana recalled, adding that he could hear Chou screaming through the walls. By the time his wife, who was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, moved back to Taiwan, “you could tell she was just tired of him,” Orellana said. When she left, “he took it pretty hard.”
Chou and his wife sold the building around the same time she relocated to Taiwan, Orellana said. After the sale, Chou complained to him that the new owners raised the monthly rent where Chou had lived for the last decade to $1,400, which he couldn’t afford. Chou eventually applied for government assistance, Orellana said, but was unsuccessful.
Orellana said this seemed to anger Chou, who believed he would not be able to support himself on the kind of work he could find at his age. Chou was living on Social Security and periodic work as a security guard for a company employed by the Sands and the Venetian casinos. Chou was licensed to carry a firearm, public records show, and he legally purchased the two nine-millimeter handguns found at the scene of the shootings in Las Vegas, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Orellana said Chou had asked several churches in the Las Vegas area if they could offer him a place to stay, but he was rejected. By February, Chou was evicted from the apartment building he had once owned.
The last time Orellana saw Chou was when he helped him carry trash out of his unit to the dumpster.
“He was just a homeless old man,” Orellana told the Times. Though Chou didn’t express thoughts of suicide explicitly, Orellana recalls him saying, “I don’t care about my life anymore.”
The tenants who moved into Chou’s old unit said they found “horrible photos” that he’d left there including an image of him posing with a gun that appeared to be taken at a memorial to the Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting that took place in 2017 in Las Vegas, Orellana said. Chou’s facial expression in the photo was as if he was “laughing hysterically,” Orellana recalls the tenants saying.
Before Chou moved out, he told Orellana he was born in Taiwan but considered himself Chinese. He believed China and Taiwan were one country, according to Orellana.
“To him, there’s no border,” Orellana continued.
Chou entered Geneva Presbyterian Church about 10 a.m. Sunday and spent several hours reading a Chinese-language newspaper in the back of the congregation before he started to chain its doors shut and filled the locks with superglue before opening fire.
Chou fatally shot local sports medicine specialist Dr. John Cheng, 52, who attempted to stop him by tackling him, before the pastor and several congregants managed to subdue him and hogtie him with an electrical cord, NBC Los Angeles reports.
Chou now faces one count of first-degree murder, including an enhancement of lying in wait with the personal use of a firearm, five counts of premeditated attempted murder, and four counts of possession of an explosive device. He also faces an additional enhancement of personal discharge of a firearm causing death, Orange County District Attorney’s Todd Spitzer announced Tuesday. The special circumstances enhancement means that if convicted, Chou could the death penalty.
Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said during a news conference on Monday that “based on preliminary information in the investigation, it is believed the suspect involved was upset about political tensions between China and Taiwan.” Barnes also said authorities found notes written in Mandarin in Chou’s car, which demonstrated his “hatred of the Taiwanese people.”
Geneva Presbyterian Church may have been chosen for no reason other than having been the closest Taiwanese congregation to Las Vegas, the sheriff said. “I believe his hatred of Taiwan manifested when he was residing there in previous years, possibly in his youth.”
The FBI is investigating the shooting as a hate crime.
On Tuesday, Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen extended her condolences to the victims of the shooting and said she condemned “any form of violence,” according to The Associated Press.
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