Laguna Wood church shooting leaves community in mourning


Billy Chang stood in front of the crowd, his voice failing as he tried to find the strength to speak a day after a gunman, allegedly fueled by hatred of the Taiwanese community, opened fire on a church in Laguna Woods.

He and around 100 others were at the Presbyterian Church in Geneva on Sunday when the shooting occurred, leaving John Cheng, 52, dead and five others injured. Chang was among those who helped restrain the shooter, preventing further bloodshed.

“I want to thank everyone who has prayed for us during this difficult time,” he whispered into a microphone during a prayer vigil in Irvine on Monday.

Chang took off his glasses. Tears flowed and a group of local pastors and leaders hugged him and prayed as he cried.

After a series of speakers – including pastors, city officials and law enforcement officials – Chang’s short testimony caused a stir with many, prompting a standing ovation from around 150 people.

The 67-year-old is the former pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Geneva and had attended Sunday service while visiting from Taiwan. The shooting took place at a luncheon honoring Chang.

In an interview with The Times, Chang said he was one of the worshipers who took on the suspect. He and his wife heard the gunshots during lunch but weren’t sure what to think.

“At first I wasn’t sure what happened,” he said. “I thought it was a joke.”

He looked around and saw that others had crouched down and realized the sound was gunfire.

Chang spotted the shooter and ran towards him with a chair as his weapon.

” He was afraid. I don’t think he expected anyone to attack him,” he said.

Chang said he pushed the shooter to the ground and asked others for help. He called his wife to find something so they could tie up the man.

She brought him an electrical cord, and he and the others tied up the suspect while others called 911, he said.

Investigators provided few details but said they believe the deadly attack was a politically motivated hate incident.

“We believe, based on what we’ve discovered so far, that he specifically targeted the Taiwanese community, and that’s a representation of that Taiwanese community,” the Orange County Sheriff said. Don Barnes, referring to the church.

The suspect has been identified as David Wenwei Chou, 68, of Las Vegas.

Chou was born in mainland China and moved to Taiwan before moving to the United States, Barnes said. He has lived in the United States for years and is an American citizen.

He was arrested Sunday and is being held in lieu of $1 million bail at the Orange County Admissions Release Center, jail records show. He is due to appear in court on Tuesday.

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Carrie Braun said he was arrested on one count of murder and five counts of attempted murder.

In addition to the local criminal case, the FBI has opened a federal hate crime investigation into the shooting, said Kristi Johnson, assistant director in charge of the Los Angeles bureau’s office.

The outburst of violence hit close to home for some present at Monday’s vigil.

Albert Chen, a 65-year-old man who lives in Mission Viejo, was on hand to pay his respects to Cheng, who was killed as he charged the gunman and tried to disarm him.

Officials said Cheng’s actions allowed others to subdue the shooter.

Chen, who is Taiwanese American and attends a Taiwanese church in Irvine, said Cheng was his primary doctor.

“He was very nice, very caring. He was careful about my health,” Chen said.

He was joined at the vigil by his 34-year-old daughter, Joyce, who said she wanted to support her father and their community.

“The Taiwanese Christian community is very tight-knit,” she said.

The prayer vigil included pastors and congregants from various religious communities in Orange County. Among them was Reverend Ralph E. Williamson, pastor of Christ Our Redeemer AME Church.

“It could have been that congregation,” Williamson said of the shooting. “We will not be intimidated by fear. We won’t be afraid to come together and hold our heads up like we do.

The pastor added that Monday’s vigil was also held in response to Saturday’s racially motivated mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, NY.

A white gunman live-streamed his racist rampage as he opened fire with an AR-15-style rifle while wearing a body armor, killing 10 people and injuring three others.

Of the 13 victims, 11 are black and two are white, according to Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia.

Officials also said the shooter traveled about 200 miles to target the historically black community.

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