Hero Doctor Died Saving Others in Calif. Church Shooting, Which Was Hate Crime Targeting Taiwanese: Sheriff

About 50 congregants were enjoying a lunch banquet following their church service at Orange County’s Geneva Presbyterian Church on Sunday when gunfire erupted

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-stUQcwOq0 ‘Hero.' Laguna Woods Church Shooting Victim John Cheng ‘Charged' Mass Shooter
Dr. John Cheng. Photo: South Coast Medical Group

About 50 congregants were enjoying a lunch banquet following their church service at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, Calif., on Sunday.

The congregants, who were mostly elderly members of the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, were celebrating the return of one of their pastors who had recently come back from a mission trip to Taiwan.

Before the service, authorities say, David Chou, 68, entered the church and joined the congregation, socializing and mingling with the congregants who didn't know him but welcomed him into the church.

During the lunch banquet, Chou, a Chinese immigrant and a security guard who lived in Las Vegas, allegedly locked the outside church doors with chains and tried to super glue the locks. He also tried to nail at least one door shut. And then he allegedly started shooting.

According to authorities, congregant Dr. John Cheng, a 52-year-old father of two, acted swiftly and heroically.

"It is known that Dr. Cheng charged the suspect, attempted to disarm him, which allowed other parishioners to then intercede, taking the suspect into custody," Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said at a Monday afternoon press conference.

Geneva Presbyterian Church

Barnes said one of the congregants threw a chair at the suspect.

"Without the actions of Dr. Cheng, [there] is no doubt there would be numerous additional victims in this crime," said Barnes.

Barnes said Cheng was fatally shot during the altercation with the suspect and pronounced dead at the scene.

Five people were wounded in the shooting, including four men who were between the ages of 66 and 92, and one woman believed to be 86.

Barnes said Dr. Cheng "saved the lives of probably upwards of dozens of people, by the way this individual was prepared."

Geneva Presbyterian Church

'One of the Most Horrific Hate Crimes': Sheriff

At the press conference, Barnes said the shooting was motivated by political hate.

"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 said.

"I believe his hatred of Taiwan manifested when he was residing there in previous years, possibly in his youth," Barnes said. "He was not well received while living there."

Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Sign up for PEOPLE's free True Crime newsletter for breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases.

It is "one of the most horrific hate crimes I've seen," Barnes added.

Barnes said investigators are still trying to determine why Chou targeted the Orange County church. They believe he may have picked it because he thought it was the church with a large number of Taiwanese congregants closest to his home. Barnes said Chou was "very intentional in his plan."

"We know that he formulated a strategy that he wanted to employ," he said. "It was very well thought out, from how he had prepared both being there, securing location, placing things about the inside of the room to perpetuate additional victims, if he had the opportunity."

At the scene, investigators found two 9mm handguns, magazines of ammunition and Molotov-cocktails.

Chou has been booked on one count of murder and five counts of attempted murder, the Los Angeles Times reported. It was not immediately clear if he has retained an attorney to comment on his behalf.

Related Articles