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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Parish stops gunman in deadly California church attack

By Damien Dovergens, Christopher Weber and Deepa Bharat

Laguna Woods, Calif. ( Associated Press) — A man opened fire during a lunch reception at a Southern California church, killing one person and injuring five older people, before a pastor hit a gunman on the head with a chair and The parishioner hugged him with an electric wire.

Jerry Chen had just entered the church’s fellowship hall kitchen at around 1:30 p.m. when he heard gunshots.

Chen, 72, a longtime member of the Irwin Taiwanese Presbyterian Church that worships at the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, looked around the corner and saw others screaming, running and ducking 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.”

Authorities said the shooting ended when the gunman killed one man and injured five older people, before worshipers tied his legs to electric cords until the deputies arrived. Four of the five people who were injured in the bullet injuries sustained serious injuries.

Although the motive for the shooting was not immediately disclosed, investigators believe the gunman lives in the community. The Orange County Sheriff’s Department tweeted, “David Chow, 68, of Las Vegas has been charged with one count of murder and five counts of attempted murder.” Jail records show Chow is being held on $1 million bail. It is not immediately known whether he has an attorney who can speak on his behalf.

Chen, who called 911 from the church’s parking lot, said he was so shocked he couldn’t tell his location to the operator.

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

Chen said a group of about 40 congregations had gathered at Fellowship Hall for a luncheon to welcome their former pastor, Billy Chang, who had served the church for 20 years and was a beloved and respected member of the community. Chang moved back to Taiwan two years ago. Chen said it was his first time back statesside.

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

Then he heard gunshots and fled.

Soon after, Chen said he heard details from other people about what had happened inside. Fellow troopers told Chen that when the gunman stopped to reload, Pastor Chang hit him on the head with a chair, while others quickly moved to grab his gun. Then they subdued her and tied her up, Chen said.

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

Chen said the majority of church members are older, highly educated Taiwanese immigrants.

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

Orange County Undersheriff Jeff Hallock praised the parishioners’ quick action to nab the gunman.

“That group of church-goers displayed what we believe is extraordinary valor and bravery in intervening to stop the suspect. They undoubtedly prevented additional injuries and fatalities,” Hallock said. It’s safe to say that had people not intervened, it could have been much worse.”

The shooting comes a day after an 18-year-old man was shot and killed at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.

Laguna Woods was created as a senior living community and later became a town. In a city of 18,000 people about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of Los Angeles, more than 80% of its residents are at least 65. The shooting took place in an area with a cluster of houses of worship, including Catholic, Lutheran and Methodist churches. A Jewish synagogue.

Hallock said the investigation was in its early stages. He said many unanswered questions included whether the attacker had attended church service, whether he knew the church members and how many shots were fired.

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Carrie Braun said most of the church’s people at the time were believed to be of Taiwanese descent.

The sheriff’s department said the wounded included four Asian men aged 66, 75, 82 and 92, and an 86-year-old Asian woman. Officials originally said that only four of the five surviving victims had been shot.

According to a statement from the Presbytery of Los Ranchos, the church’s administrative body, the lunch reception was held to honor a former pastor of the Taiwanese congregation.

“Please keep the congregation of Taiwan and the leadership of Geneva in your prayers as they care for the victims of this shooting,” Tom Cramer of the Presbytery said in a statement on Facebook.

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

“No one should be afraid to go to his place of worship. Our thoughts are with the victims, the community and all those affected by this tragic incident.”

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

“Everyone is welcome here. Really, we mean it! … Geneva aspires to be an inclusive church that worships, learns, connects, gives and serves together.”

In 2017, the deadliest shooting took place inside a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. A gunman opened fire during a Sunday meeting at First Baptist Church, killing more than two dozen people.

In 2015, Dylan Roof opened fire during the closing prayer of a 2015 Bible study session at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Nine members of a black congregation were killed in racist violence and Roof became the first person in the US to be sentenced to death for a federal hate crime. His appeal remains in the Supreme Court.


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


Weber and Bharat reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press journalist Stephanie Dizio in Los Angeles also contributed to this story.


The Associated Press religion coverage is supported by the Associated Press’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. Associated Press is solely responsible for this content.

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