Doctor killed in Laguna Woods shooting was trying to disarm suspect, save others

People surround a man praying at a lectern.
Officials pray around former pastor Billy Chang, center, as he tries to hold back his emotions after speaking during a vigil at Christ Our Redeemer Church in Irvine on Monday. Chang helped subdue the shooter.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
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The churchgoer killed when a gunman opened fire at a Laguna Woods church Sunday was a sports medicine doctor and master of martial arts who was slain while trying to stop the shooting, authorities said Monday.

Orange County sheriff’s officials said that when the suspect began shooting, Dr. John Cheng put himself in the line of fire and tried to prevent others from being shot.

According to the visiting pastor, Cheng, 52, of Laguna Niguel, was not a regular at the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, which met Sundays at the Geneva Presbyterian Church, but had brought his mother to a special event honoring the former longtime pastor.


‘It is believed the suspect involved was upset about political tensions between China and Taiwan,’ Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said.

May 17, 2022

“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.

A woman hugs a child, sitting with other people.
Worshipers listen to speakers and pray during a vigil at Christ Our Redeemer Church in Irvine.
( Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

“He sacrificed himself so others could live,” Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer added.

The violence occurred at a church luncheon honoring a pastor who had recently returned after several years in Taiwan. After Cheng was shot, witnesses said the pastor struck the suspect with a chair when he paused to reload his weapon and other members of the congregation tackled him.

“I knew something was wrong. I called 911,” a witness told The Times.

May 16, 2022

They hogtied him with an extension cord, a move officials think likely saved many more lives. The suspect had tried to seal the doors of the church hall to prevent people from getting out.

Flowers are laid in front of a big photo of a doctor.
A photo of Dr. John Cheng, 52, who was killed in Sunday’s shooting at Geneva Presbyterian Church.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

“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,” Spitzer said.

Cheng, who ran a sports medicine practice in Aliso Viejo, leaves behind a wife and two children.

“He’s a beloved member of his community, is known for his hard work and work ethic and sports medicine, and our thoughts and prayers go out to him, his friends in the community for their loss, as well as the Geneva Presbyterian Church,” Barnes said.

A man stands behind a lectern as a man near him wipes away tears.
Former pastor Billy Chang, right, who helped subdue the shooter, tries to hold back his emotions as K.C. Liu offers support after speaking during a vigil at Christ Our Redeemer Church in Irvine Monday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Louis M. Huang, director general at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Los Angeles, said his office has reached out to family members of all the victims in the shooting.

Four of the five victims, including Cheng, held Taiwanese citizenships, Huang said. The fifth was born in the Philippines but spoke Taiwanese because of their heritage.

A police car sits behind yellow tape.
The gunman in a deadly attack at the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods was a Chinese immigrant motivated by hate for Taiwanese people, authorities said.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

The wounded were four men ages 66, 92, 82 and 75, and an 86-year-old woman. They have not yet been identified.

Of the four who were critically injured, two will likely leave the hospital in a day or two, Huang said. One may require a hospital stay of a week, and the other probably needs surgery, he said.

Authorities said Monday the suspect — identified as David Wenwei Chou, 68, of Las Vegas — appeared to be motivated by political hatred directed at the Taiwanese community, Orange County Sheriff’s officials said Monday. Chou was arrested Sunday and is being held in lieu of $1-million bail.