Laguna Woods Mayor Carol Moore, front left at podium, and Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, right, surrounded by law enforcement officers, hold a press conference outside the grounds of Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Wood on May 15, after a fatal shooting. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

RAFU STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS

LAGUNA WOODS — Orange County Sheriff’s investigators have arrested a man suspected of entering a Laguna Woods church and shooting multiple victims during a lunch banquet.

At 1:26 p.m. on May 15, deputies responded to reports of a man with a gun at Geneva Presbyterian Church in the 24000 block of El Toro Road. When deputies arrived, they found the congregants had detained the suspect by tackling him, then tying his legs with extension cords. The church has a Taiwanese congregation.

Deputies located one deceased individual and five others who were injured. They immediately began life-saving measures until paramedics with the Orange County Fire Authority arrived to provide advanced critical care. Five individuals were taken to local hospitals, where they are being treated.

Victim #1: 66-year-old Asian male, gunshot wound

Victim #2: 92-year-old Asian male, gunshot wound

Victim #3: 82-year-old Asian male, gunshot wound

Victim #4: 75-year-old Asian male, gunshot wound

Victim #5: 86-year-old Asian female, gunshot wound 

The decedent, whom witnesses described as a hero who attempted to disarm the gunman, was identified as Dr. John Cheng, 52, a physician with South Bay Medical Group in Aliso Viejo. He leaves behind a wife and two children.

Dr. John Cheng (South Coast Medical Group)

According to the South Coast Medical Group website, Cheng was certified in family and sports medicine, the son of a physician and an “accomplished martial arts instructor.” He grew up in Texas, studied at Texas Tech School of Medicine, and did his residency at UCLA.

Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said, “Without the actions of Dr. Cheng, there is no doubt there would be additional victims in this crime.”

The suspect was identified as David Wenwei Chou, 68, of Las Vegas, where he is a licensed sccurity guard. He was taken into custody and two firearms were recovered at the scene. Investigators were working to determine whether he has any connections to the church or its congregants.

Barnes said that the shooting was a “politically motivated hate incident” carried out by a man who “was upset about political tensions between China and Taiwan.”

The Orange County Fire Authority, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are assisting in the investigation.

Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said in a statement, “Churches are intended to be safe sanctuaries from hate and violence. That serenity was shattered this afternoon by a gunman who unleashed unspeakable violence in a house of worship. Good will always triumph over evil and we are working with our local and federal law enforcement partners to ensure the person responsible is held accountable. Homicide prosecutors from the Orange County District Attorney’s Office are on scene.

“As we mourn the tragic loss of life, we are thankful to the parishioners and first responders who rushed in to save countless more lives.”

Investigators found a note in Chou’s car in the church parking lot that indicated animosity toward Taiwan. Spitzer said it appears Chou’s family was forced to move from China to Taiwan and that Chou complained he was treated poorly as an outsider over the years. Investigators have multiple translators going over the note to make sure it is translated correctly, Spitzer said.

Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett of District 5 said in a statement, “My heartfelt condolences to the families affected by yesterday’s tragedy in Laguna Woods. To the citizens of Orange County, you have my unwavering support to ensure the safety and security of all our residents. Thank you again to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department for bringing the perpetrator swiftly into custody. We will continue to share information as it becomes available …

“Yesterday was a very dark day for the people of Laguna Woods and Orange County. We are still hurting as an Orange County community from this senseless act of violence in a place of worship. My heart is filled with grief and my thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. Now is the time for us to come together as one community and one Orange County. We will seek justice.”

State Sen. Dave Min of the 37th Senate District said, “What happened yesterday to Taiwanese parishioners is traumatic and devastating to the entire Orange County community. The third mass shooting in three days, this attack was meticulously thought out and, as we are learning, could have been much more severe in light of new information that the gunman had not only locked the church doors but was armed with high-caliber magazines and Molotov cocktails.

“This mass shooting raises the concern that we are fighting a battle on two fronts: the rise of gun violence and the rise of hate crimes both here in Orange County and across America. It is time we put a stop to this nightmare. The political and ethnic divisions that fueled this mass shooting must be a call to action for all of us to come together and heal divisions through dialogue and shared understanding. We cannot allow the crisis of hate to go unchecked while extremists take up arms against our communities.

“I also want to express my deepest condolences to the family of Dr. John Cheng, whose heroic actions saved dozens of lives. We must honor Dr. Cheng’s legacy by building bridges across racial, ethnic, and religious lines to make sure that this type of tragedy never happens again.”

Rep. Young Kim of the 39th Congressional District said, “As more details unfold, Dr. John Cheng is a hero who put his life on the line to save others in Laguna Woods. My heart is with his mother, who he brought to church yesterday, his wife and children, and the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian congregation.”

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