LAGUNA WOODS, Calif. – Authorities identified physician John Cheng, 52, as the victim of a California church shooting. They are saying he died heroically, saving the lives of others. Officials are also describing the mass shooting as a “politically motived hate incident.”
“Without the actions of Dr. Cheng, there is no doubt there would be numerous other deaths,” the Orange County Sheriff’s Department said on Monday, according to FOX 11 Los Angeles.
The shooting occurred at Geneva Presbyterian Church in the 24000 block of El Toro Road around 1:30 p.m., Law Officer reported.
In addition to Cheng’s death, the sheriff’s department said four more people were seriously wounded by gunfire and a fifth person sustained minor injuries.
The shooting occurred during a lunch event following the morning service, Undersheriff Jeff Hallock said.
Cheng charged at the shooter Sunday as the assailant opened fire on dozens of people gathered in the assembly, helping save lives.
After Cheng tackled the suspect, he was shot multiple times and died at the scene, authorities said.
A churchgoer told the Los Angeles Times that pastor Billy Chang also hit the gunman with a chair when he was reloading his weapon. This gave other congregants an opening and they overpowered the shooter.
Deputies said the assailant was “hogtied” by churchgoers when they arrived on scene.
“I think it’s safe to say, had people not intervened, it could’ve been a lot worse,” Hallock said. “There were 30 to 40 people inside.”
Officials identified David Chou, 68, of Las Vegas, as the shooter behind the attack.
OCSD said they recovered multiple weapons, including the one used in the mass shooting.
Laguna Woods is generally a retirement community in South Orange County with an aging population. The additional victims, all of whom are of Asian descent, were four men and one woman, and they all sustained gunshot wounds. The men are ages 66, 75, 82 and 92, and the woman is 86 years old.
At last check, two were listed in good condition, two in stable condition, and one victim’s condition is unknown.
Authorities said two of the victims are a married couple in their mid-80s.
Sheriff Don Barnes said Monday that the shooting was a “politically motivated hate incident.”
“This was a politically motivated hate incident, a grievance that this individual had between himself and the Taiwanese community,” Barnes said.
“Evidence was collected linking him to this crime based on preliminary information in the investigation, it is believed the suspect involved was upset about political tensions between China and Taiwan,” he added.
Authorities described the deceased doctor as a “beloved member of the community, known for his hard work and work ethic in sports medicine.”
Cheng, of Laguna Niguel, leaves behind a wife and two children, Fox 11 reported.
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer called out Cheng and the other parishioners’ actions as “the most heroic activity one could ever imagine.”
“Dr. Cheng, understanding that there were elderly [people] everywhere and they couldn’t get out of the premises because the doors had been chained after others had been shot, he took it upon himself to charge across the room and to do everything he could to disable the assailant. He was shot and then there was an attempt to shoot him again. But the gun jammed and he succumbed to his injuries. He sacrificed himself so that others could live. That irony in a church is not lost on me.”
Spitzer added, “When you were in that room last night with Dr. Cheng, who lost his life, you could feel… you could see the chaos. It was permeable. It was life-changing. It was overwhelming. And now it’s our job as members of law enforcement to continue this investigation, to conclude it, and to prosecute this individual to the fullest extent of the law while always supporting the victims.”
The FBI opened a federal hate crime investigation into the shooting, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Chou was booked on one felony count of murder and five felony counts of attempted murder, according to the sheriff’s office.