‘Dr. Cheng is a hero’: The man who tragically lost his life in the Laguna Woods shooting

Officials hold a news conference in front of Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods
Officials hold a news conference in front of Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, where a gunman killed one person and injured five others on Sunday.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, May 17. I’m Justin Ray.

Several details have emerged since a gunman attacked a lunch banquet at a Taiwanese church in Laguna Woods on Sunday, killing one person and wounding five others.

For one, we have learned that the churchgoers tackled him, hogtied him with an extension cord and grabbed his two weapons. Authorities have also said that the attack appeared to be motivated by political hatred directed at the Taiwanese community.

Photos taken in the aftermath show a community in mourning. “Things are just breaking down in society right now,” one community member told The Times when reflecting on the tragedy.

We have also learned about the heroic actions of an individual who lost his life in the shooting.

The single churchgoer who was killed was slain while trying to stop the shooting. Authorities have said that Dr. John Cheng put himself in the line of fire and tried to prevent others from being attacked. After he was shot, witnesses said a visiting pastor struck the suspect with a chair when he paused to reload his weapon and other members of the congregation tackled him.

“Dr. Cheng is a hero in this incident, based on statements from the witnesses and corroborated by other means. It is known that Dr. Cheng charged the individual — the suspect — [and] attempted to disarm him, which allowed other parishioners to then intercede,” Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said at a news conference.


Cheng, 52, of Laguna Niguel, ran a sports medicine practice in Aliso Viejo. According to the visiting pastor, he was not a regular at the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, but had brought his mother to a special Sunday event honoring the former longtime pastor. Cheng left behind a wife and two children.

“The heroism of those individuals in that room is unbelievable to all of us in law enforcement. That these civilians took it upon them on their own to take him in, to detain him, to stop his movements. One person sacrificing his life. It is literally, literally inspiring and unbelievable,” Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer said. “He sacrificed himself so others could live.”

Further reading:

What we know about the church. The 100 or so members of Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, most of whom are senior citizens, worship in their native language — not Mandarin but Taiwanese. At the church, they not only worshiped but learned how to use an iPad and enjoyed lectures on topics such as Taiwanese pop music and California abalone.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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The people behind a big wave of Californians who have moved to Texas in the last few years speak out. Ten individuals who left the Golden State discussed the good, the bad and the just-plain-unexpected they found in the Lone Star State: “I’m Latino and gay, but there haven’t been any instances where I felt like I wasn’t accepted.” Los Angeles Times

‘Firefighter down’: He walked into a burning house but was carried out. What happened? Even in a place as vast and combustible as Los Angeles, Jonathan Flagler’s demise represents something rare: the death of an urban firefighter battling a structure fire. Reporter Brittny Mejia looked into the circumstances around his death. Los Angeles Times

 Aerial view of a burned home on Tarapaca Road in Rancho Palos Verdes.
An aerial view of a burned home on Tarapaca Road in Rancho Palos Verdes, where firefighter Jonathan Flagler, a 21-year veteran, was killed in the line of duty.
(Los Angeles Times)


Snapchat co-founder pays off college debt of new graduates at L.A. art and design school. Nearly 300 recent graduates of Otis College of Art and Design received stunning news: Their college debt would be completely paid off through the largest donation in the school’s century-old history by Snapchat co-founder Evan Spiegel and his wife, Miranda Kerr, who is founder of the beauty company Kora. In California alone, 3.8 million residents owe $141.8 billion, the largest share of any state. Los Angeles Times

Graduates react to the surprise announcement that their college debts will be paid off.
Graduates of Otis College of Arts and Design react to the surprise announcement Sunday that their college debts will be paid off.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

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In rural California, Republican Brian Dahle plants the seeds of a campaign for governor. It’s been a long dry spell for Republicans hoping to become governor of California. With the California Republican Party’s endorsement, Brian Dahle is favored to finish in the top two in the June 7 primary. That’s the easy part. Once November comes, he faces the grim reality that Democrats outnumber Republicans in California by an almost 2-1 ratio. Here’s what you may not know about Dahle’s background and what his colleagues have said about him. Los Angeles Times

Gubernatorial candidate Brian Dahle on his farm overlooking the Pitt River in Lassen County.
Gubernatorial candidate Brian Dahle on his farm overlooking the Pitt River in Lassen County.
(Phil Willon / Los Angeles Times)


Four people have been arrested on suspicion of arson after firefighters responded to dozens of small fires in Northern California last weekend. Los Angeles Times

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With coronavirus cases continuing to rise in some parts of California, the big question is when some local governments may decide when a wave is big enough for officials to intervene with new rules. The Times identifies nine counties that are in the CDC’s medium level, the highest number since early March. It’s also worth noting that wealthy L.A. County communities have been seeing the fastest rise in coronavirus cases. Los Angeles Times

Dr, David Bolour, left, vaccinats Joshua Fernandez, 5, right, in Los Angeles, CA.
Dr. David Bolour, left, vaccinates Joshua Fernandez, 5, in Ted Watkins Memorial Park in Los Angeles.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Santa Rosa Recreation and Parks officials told residents to stay out of Lake Ralphine due to the presence of blue-green algae. The algae can produce toxic substances that attack internal organs, resulting in severe illness or death if ingested. Officials said blue-green algae could be present in any local body of water as seasonal temperatures increase. Press Democrat


Increase in pet abandonment leaves shelters to make tough decisions. Dogs that were formerly pets are being left to fend for themselves in Kern County. The lack of space at the City of Bakersfield Animal Care Center is causing heartbreak and desperation among staff. They have about 175 kennels for dogs but are caring for 213. They no longer can accept owner-surrendered pets. The staff says that these unsuccessful adoptions aren’t from the pandemic, but are a yearly occurrence. KGET

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Today’s California memory is from Michael Guzman:

It was the summer of 1984. I had just graduated from Loyola High School in Los Angeles. The Olympics were just around the corner. My opera-singing sister sent me tickets to watch U.S.A. basketball at the Forum. I quickly snuck down to the floor to find Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing standing together getting ready to play. With Michael on my left and Patrick on my right, I screamed at both of them yelling, “You guys are amazing, this is the best, U.S.A.!” I watched our team destroy China and Canada, it wasn’t even close. Best summer ever.

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