By Eric Levenson and Elizabeth Joseph, CNN
A Californian family and sports medicine doctor with a deep interest in community building has been hailed a hero after his death to a gunman during a church service on Sunday.
Dr John Cheng, 52, was the only person killed in the mass shooting at the Geneva Presbyterian Church, where a Taiwanese church held services, in Laguna Woods, California. Five others were shot and injured – and had it not been for Cheng’s efforts, the bloodshed could have been worse.
“Dr. Cheng is a hero in this incident,” Orange County Sheriff Donald Barnes said Monday. this crime.”
The shooting occurred during a lunch reception of largely elderly congregants to celebrate the return of a Taiwanese pastor from a mission trip to Taiwan, Barnes said. Cheng attended lunch with her recently widowed mother.
During the reception, a 68-year-old man identified as David Chou came in and began shooting at people, the sheriff said.
Cheng swung into action and tackled the man, allowing fellow church members to disarm and jointly detain him, the sheriff said. The pastor, Billy Chang, hit the shooter with a chair, and others tied him down with an extension cord and took at least two handguns from him, officials said.
“This group of worshipers displayed what we believe to be exceptional heroism in intervening or intervening to arrest the suspect,” Deputy Sheriff Jeff Hallock said.
In a letter provided to CNN by a parishioner, Chang called for prayers for Cheng’s family, the congregation and the injured. The pastor described in heartbreaking detail how the attack unfolded.
“We were standing on the podium, taking photos with friends, seeing the shooter aiming and shooting,” Chang wrote. At first he thought it was a toy gun and the person was “playing a trick, no need to take cover”. Once he fully realized what was happening, Chang said the shooter was only about 10-15 paces away.
Chang says he rushed off the podium and grabbed a chair. He writes that the shooter turned “to resist my attack” and fell with the gun falling at his side.
“To prevent him from picking up the gun, I squeezed him and his hand with my body, and called out loud for help,” he wrote. Four people came to help and used electrical cords as they couldn’t find a cord.
To his “heartbreaking grief”, Chang saw Cheng lying motionless on the ground with gunshot wounds to his back.
Cheng’s decision to charge the suspect caused the gun to jam, Orange District Attorney Todd Spitzer said.
“If this event had not happened, in other words, if the weapon had not jammed, this suspect, Mr. Chou, he was ready to kill everyone in this church”, a- he declared.
Cheng suffered multiple gunshot wounds and was pronounced dead at the scene. Five other people were injured: four men aged 66, 75, 82 and 92 and an 86-year-old woman.
Chou, the only suspect, lived in Las Vegas and was an American citizen who immigrated from China years ago, according to Barnes. He had secured the church doors from the inside with chains and super glue, and he also had a bag of Molotov cocktails and an extra bag of ammunition, officials said.
Officials described the attack as politically motivated and said Chou was upset about political tensions between China and Taiwan. He was charged with murder and nine other counts, Spitzer said.
Dr. Cheng was inspired by his father’s work in a small town in Texas
Dr. Cheng, who leaves behind a wife and two children, including one soon to graduate from high school, worked as a family and sports medicine physician at South Coast Medical Group in Aliso Viejo, California. The group did not respond to a request for comment.
In a 2012 YouTube video on his professional website, Cheng spoke in a calm and heartwarming tone about how his father’s job as a doctor in a small town in Texas inspired him to join the medical field. .
“I saw the care my dad provided to his patients in a small community in East Texas, and I saw the community rally around him and embrace him in the community, and I love it. “, did he declare. “It’s those small-town values that were ingrained in me when I was younger that really help create that sense of community, and in this modern society, in modern times, we miss that very much.”
“This patient-doctor relationship is very special, so you know a lot about the patient, their family and the community they live in,” he continued. “The beautiful thing is that I live in the same community.”
He said people have responded positively to his personalized bedside manner.
“Patients often come in and at the end of the visit they say, ‘You know what, Dr. Cheng? You are the first doctor who really listened to me,” he said.
His interest in sports medicine brought him into contact with top athletes, weekend warriors and aspiring athletes, he said. Yet he always emphasized the importance of community.
“We are planting seeds in that person’s heart and mind on how to take care of themselves,” he said. “When they take care of themselves, they are able to take care of their family, which creates a more positive family environment, which then results in better communities.
Dr. Cheng had been a member of Kingdom Covenant Church in Orange County for more than 12 years, Pastor Ira Angustain told CNN.
“He was kind, generous and fun loving. He loved God and his family with passion. My wife and I and our church body were so honored to have Dr. John as a member of our congregation. Dr. John has made me a better pastor, friend and person just by having him in my life, that’s not hyperbole,” Angustain said.
Cheng had a wonderful smile and a kind attitude, the pastor said.
“I am proud to say that I was his pastor. He is a real hero. Everyone needs a Dr John in their life,” he said.
His patients also praised him for his work at the doctor’s office and at church.
“He’s a hero here at South Coast Medical Group, and he’s a hero in real life,” patient Amy Dowling told CNN affiliate KCAL/KCBS.
Spitzer, the district attorney, said a mass honoring Dr. Cheng is scheduled for 2 p.m. Tuesday.
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CNN’s Caroll Alvarado and Stephanie Elam contributed to this report.