Billy Chang was a pastor who helped to subdue the gunman in the Laguna Woods church shooting. One person was killed and five others were injured during a luncheon for the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church at Geneva Presbyterian Church in California. Dr. John Cheng was the deceased victim, who is being called a hero for charging at the gunman and sacrificing himself.
The suspect, who is in custody, was identified as 68-year-old David Wenwei Chou. The victims’ names have also not been released. KTAR identified Chang as the pastor who was being honored at the luncheon.
A GoFundMe was established by Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church members to support those impacted by the tragedy. It raised $30,000 in less than 24 hours.
The ITPC community is in shock and completely devastated by the loss and pain inflicted upon their church members.
This fundraiser is organized by members of ITPC who grew up attending this church and spent their childhoods with these families. We are heartbroken by the senseless violence and are reaching out to the internet for help. Our small Taiwanese congregation has put out love and kindness into the surrounding community for generations. During this time, our church, the victims, and their families need to focus on recovering from this tragedy. Please help us by giving to this campaign, of which 100% of the proceeds will go to ITPC and the families of the victims to aid in their journey of healing.
Undersheriff Jeff Hallock said in a press conference that churchgoers detained the suspect, disarmed him and “hogtied” him. The suspect is an Asian male in his 60s, Hallock said. His name was not released. Hallock said they are still working to determine a motive and they do not know whether it was a “hate-related” incident. Hallock said they did not yet know whether the suspect had any connections to the church and whether any victims were targeted. The churchgoers who intervened were hailed as heroes for preventing further deaths and injuries. Two handguns were recovered from the scene, Hallock said.
Four people suffered critical injuries and one suffered minor injuries, officials said. The injured victims were rushed to local hospitals, and the person who was killed was found dead at the scene. All six victims are adults, according to the Orange County Sheriff.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Chang Hit the Gunman With a Chair While He Was Reloading
Chang hit the gunman on the head with a chair while the suspect paused to reload his weapons, Jerry Chen, a longtime congregant, told KTAR News. Chen, 72, said others moved in to disarm the suspect, tackle him and tie him up with extension cords.
“It was amazing how brave (Chang) and the others were,” Chen told KTAR. “This is just so sad. I never, ever thought something like this would happen in my church, in my community.”
Undersheriff Jeff Hallock told the OC Register that many of the people who were in the church at the time of the shooting were of Taiwanese descent. The Irvine Taiwanese Church website says they meet at Geneva Presbyterian Church. Hallock confirmed during a press conference a luncheon was being held at the church following services.
Hallock hailed the intervening churchgoers who detained and disarmed the suspect for their “extreme heroism and bravery.”
Twitter user Michelle Ko highlighted the bravery of the elder Taiwanese people in a post. She wrote:
Amidst this tragedy I do want to point out that our elders…are bada**es.
‘After the shots rang out, the pastor picked up a chair and hit the gunman with it. Then other members of the congregation grabbed him’ disarmed him & hogtied him.
Their generation- and this group within this generation- envisioned and fought for democracy while they & their loved ones were persecuted, imprisoned & killed. They don’t f* around.
p.s. As young people, they were very inspired by Black activists in the US Civil Rights movement.
Our elders, whether in Buffalo or the OC, are connected in ways we don’t always see on the surface. A reminder that our communities are too.
The Presbytery of Los Ranchos said in a statement to the Orange County Register that it is “deeply saddened by a fatal shooting that occurred at a lunch reception honoring a former pastor of the Taiwanese congregation that nests at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods … Please keep the leadership of the Taiwanese congregation and Geneva in your prayers as they care for the those traumatized by this shooting.”
The newspaper reported the church also hosts The Geneva School, a Christian middle school. The OC Register reported the school “appeared to have sent a message to parents informing them about the shooting on Sunday, saying the violence occurred during ‘the Taiwanese church’s lunch meeting.'”
A translation of the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church website references Genesis 12 and God telling Abraham to leave his home for the Promised land. Pastor Li Furen compared the Bible story to the journey of the church congregants from their homeland to the United States.
“Just like Abraham, a group of Puritans in the seventeenth century set foot on the new continent of the United States in pursuit of freedom of belief and a better life. In pursuit of their dreams, we also became new immigrants to this country in the twentieth century, facing unfamiliar people. Environmental language and culture, we have experienced many challenges and difficulties, but because of this, we can better appreciate God’s wonderful leadership and abundant blessings,” the translation says.
The pastors are listed as Li Furen and Albany Lee.
“IRVINE Taiwan Presbyterian Church is a big family full of love. We welcome all our friends to join us with open arms. In the love of God and the grace of Jesus Christ, we hope that all brothers and sisters can have more knowledge, and also In the journey of life, we can walk stronger and happier because of each other’s support,” the translation of the website says.
2. Chang Was the Pastor Who Was Being Honored at the Luncheon
Chang was being honored at the luncheon May 15, 2022, where about 40 congregants gathered in the fellowship hall after their morning service, Chen told KTAR News. Chang had served at the church for about 20 years “and was a beloved and respected community member,” KTAR News reported.
Chang had moved back to Taiwan two years ago and had just returned back to the United States, Chen told the news outlet. The Taiwanese church has met at Geneva Presbyterian Church for about 10 years, Chen told the news station.
Geneva Presbyterian Church congregants gathered for a worship service shortly before the shooting inside the church, and were told in the message they should welcome everyone, even those who break religious traditions. The Rev. Ryan Romeburg spoke to congregants about tradition, and challenged them to ask themselves how they feel when they hear about something “new” in a video of the sermon posted on Facebook and later removed. He said that something “new” can create tension among Christians because the religion is rooted in thousands of years of tradition.
The sermon was based on Revelations 21:5, “See, I am making all things new.”
Romeburg said that the Bible verse referenced a passage from the book of Acts about welcoming those in the Church who broke traditional values, such as eating kosher foods.
“In other words, people didn’t need to jump through hoops to be accepted. They didn’t need to check off a list of rituals to be loved. They didn’t need to kiss the ring of the powerful before their voice was welcome. They didn’t need to pretend to be someone else,” Romeburg said in the sermon.
The Geneva Presbyterian Church website says their regular church services are held at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays. The event calendar says a “High School Hang” was scheduled for 7 p.m. Sunday, and did not list any events for the afternoon after the morning service. The church bulletin says the sermon for May 15, 2022, was “Celebrating The Calling,” delivered by The Rev. Ryan Romberg.
The sermon was livestreamed on the church Facebook page. The page was later removed.
3. Social Media Users Shared Photos of the Active Shooter Scene From Outside the Church
Several people shared photos on social media of the active shooter scene in the moments after the shooting.
One photo from a social media user showed a row of firetrucks outside Geneva Presbyterian Church.
“On my way to Laguna beach and the street is blocked off,” Judy Perez wrote on Twitter. “So incredibly sad! I hope the victims are okay!”
A Twitter user shared a photo of deputies and other first responders converging on the area, with Geneva Presbyterian Church pictured in the background.
“Driving to Laguna Beach on El Toro and see this. So sad,” the Twitter user wrote.
“Deputies are responding to reports of a shooting at a church on the 24000 block of El Toro Road in Laguna Woods. Multiple victims have been shot. More details to follow, PIO en route,” the Orange County Sheriff wrote on Twitter shortly after the shooting. “We have detained one person and have recovered a weapon that may be involved. We are working to get information out as quickly as possible. We ask for patience as this event unfolds.”
Carrie Braun, the Orange County Sheriff’s spokeswoman, told the OC Register deputies and Orange County Fire Authority paramedics were responding to the scene Sunday, May 15, 2022.
Officials are asking the public to avoid the area. El Toro Road is closed between Calle Sonora and Canyon Wren.
Federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were also responding to the scene, according to the Associated Press.
4. ‘No One Should Have to Fear Going to Their Place of Worship,’ Gov. Gavin Newsom Said in a Statement
California Governor Gavin Newsom released a statement on Twitter expressing sympathy for the victims and saying the office was monitoring the situation.
“We are actively monitoring the shooting at a church in Laguna Woods and working closely with local law enforcement,” the statement said. “No one should have to fear going to their place of worship. Our thoughts are with the victims, community, and all those impacted by this tragic event.”
Chen told KTAR that the congregation of Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church mainly consists of elderly, highly educated Taiwanese immigrants.
“We’re mostly retirees and the average age of our church is 80,” he told the news outlet.
Chen said the shooting started shortly after they finished lunch. The congregants were taking photos with Chang at the time, and Chen was in a nearby kitchen.
“I knew someone was shooting,” he said. “I was very, very scared. I ran out the kitchen door to call 9-1-1.”
He told the news outlet that he was in a state of shock and could not remember the address.
Chen told the LA Times congregants did not recognize the gunman. The church members greeted the gunman before the service, and the suspect claimed he had been there before. But Chen said the congregants were doubtful because he did not look familiar.
5. Social Media Was Flooded With Messages of Sympathy & Support for the Church
Fellow pastors, community members and others flooded social media with support for the church in the hours after the shooting.
“The Pastor preached on love and letting love penetrate over political differences. Very foreshadowing. May the Holy Spirit touch and comfort this church,” Court Heath wrote in a comment on the May 15, 2022 video of the Sunday sermon.
“I’m praying for all my #PCUSA siblings this evening, and for everyone at the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Hills. May Christ’s peace be with you now,” E. Carrington Heath wrote on Twitter.
“May our Lord Jesus, the Divine Physician, heal and comfort the people in your congregation who were injured. May God’s arms hold and soothe all of you. Amen,” Jae Sue wrote on Facebook.