Parishioners arrest gunman in deadly California church attack



LAGUNA WOODS, Calif. (AP) — A man opened fire during a luncheon at a Southern California church, killing one person and injuring five elderly people before a pastor hit the shooter in the head with a chair and the parishioners tie him up with electrical cords.

Jerry Chen had just walked into the church common room kitchen around 1:30 p.m. Sunday when he heard the gunshots.

Chen, 72, a longtime member of the Taiwan Presbyterian Church in Irvine, who worships at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, peeked around the corner and saw other scream, run and hide under tables.

“I knew someone was shooting,” he said. “I was very, very scared. I ran out the kitchen door to call 9-1-1.”

Officials said the shooting ended after the gunman killed a man and injured five elderly people before worshipers tied his legs with an electric cord until deputies arrived. Four of the five people injured suffered serious gunshot wounds.

Although the motive for the shooting was not immediately revealed, investigators do not believe the shooter lives in the community. David Chou, 68, of Las Vegas, has been indicted on one count of murder and five counts of attempted murder, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department tweeted. Jail records show Chou is being held on $1 million bail. It is not immediately clear whether he has an attorney who can speak on his behalf.

Chen, who called 911 from the church parking lot, said he was in such shock he was unable to tell the operator where he was.

“I had to ask someone else for the address,” he said.

Chen said a group of about 40 congregants gathered in the communion hall for lunch after a morning service to welcome their former pastor Billy Chang, who had served the church for 20 years and was a member. beloved and respected community. Chang returned to Taiwan two years ago. It was his first time returning to the United States, Chen said.

“Everyone had just finished having lunch,” he said. “They were taking pictures with Pastor Chang. I had just finished my lunch and went into the kitchen.”

It was then that he heard the shots and fled.

Soon after, Chen said he heard details of what happened inside from other people who came out. Companions from the congregation told Chen that when the shooter stopped to reload, Pastor Chang hit him on the head with a chair while others moved quickly to grab his gun. They then overpowered and tied him up, Chen said.

“It was amazing to see how brave (Chang) and the others were,” he said. “It’s so sad. I never thought something like this would happen in my church, in my community.

Most church members are older, highly educated Taiwanese immigrants, Chen said.

“We are mostly retirees and the average age of our church is 80,” he said.

Orange County Deputy Sheriff Jeff Hallock praised the quick work of parishioners in stopping the shooter.

“This group of worshipers displayed exceptional heroism and bravery in intervening to arrest the suspect. They undoubtedly averted further injury and death,” Hallock said. “I believe it is safe to say that if people hadn’t intervened, it could have been much worse.”

The shooting came a day after an 18-year-old man shot and killed 10 people in a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.

Laguna Woods was built as a senior citizens’ community and later became a town. More than 80% of residents in the city of 18,000 about 80 miles southeast of Los Angeles are at least 65 years old. The shooting took place in an area with a cluster of places of worship, including Catholic, Lutheran and Methodist churches and a Jewish synagogue.

The investigation was in its early stages, Hallock said. He said the many unanswered questions include whether the attacker attended the church service, whether he was known to church members and how many shots were fired.

The majority of people inside the church at the time would be of Taiwanese descent, said Carrie Braun, a sheriff’s spokeswoman.

Among the gunshot wounds are four Asian men, ages 66, 75, 82 and 92, and an 86-year-old Asian woman, the sheriff’s department said. Authorities initially said only four of the five surviving victims were shot.

The afternoon lunch reception was to honor a former pastor of the Taiwanese congregation, according to a statement from the Los Ranchos Presbytery, an administrative body of the church.

“Please keep the leadership of the Taiwanese congregation and Geneva in your prayers as they care for those traumatized by this shooting,” the rectory’s Tom Cramer said in a statement on Facebook.

Governor Gavin Newsom’s office said on Twitter that it was monitoring the situation closely.

“No one should be afraid to go to their place of worship. Our hearts go out to the victims, the community and everyone affected by this tragic event,” the tweet read.

On its website, the Presbyterian Church of Geneva states that its mission is “to remember, tell and live the way of Jesus by being just, kind and humble”.

“All are welcome here. Truly, we mean that! … Geneva aspires to be an inclusive congregation of worshiping, learning, connecting, giving and serving together.

The deadliest shooting inside a church took place in 2017 in Sutherland Springs, Texas. A gunman opened fire during a Sunday service at First Baptist Church and killed more than two dozen people.

In 2015, Dylann Roof fired dozens of bullets during the closing prayer of a 2015 Bible study session at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Nine members of the black congregation were killed in the racist violence and Roof became the first person in the United States sentenced to death for a federal hate crime. His appeal remains before the Supreme Court.


This story has been corrected to show that Pastor Billy Chang has not retired.


Weber and Bharath reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press reporter Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles also contributed to this story.


Associated Press religious coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

Damian Dovarganes, Christopher Weber and Deepa Bharath, Associated Press


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