Dr. John Cheng: A Tribute to the Laguna Woods Church Shooting Victim

dr john cheng

South Coast Medical Group Dr. John Cheng.

Dr. John Cheng of Laguna Niguel was identified as the victim who was killed at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, California. He is being called a hero for charging the suspect when the gunman opened fire. A total of six people were injured in the shooting May 15, 2022, at the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church. Cheng was 52, authorities said. The suspect was identified as David Wenwei Chou of Las Vegas.

Dr. Cheng was fatally wounded by gunfire as he ran at the gunman, officials said during a May 16 press conference. He was described as a hero who saved many lives.

“I want to pause and tell you that Dr. Cheng is a hero in this incident,” Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said in the press conference.

He said Cheng’s actions allowed others to intervene and subdue the gunman.

“Without the actions of Dr. Cheng, there is no doubt that there would be numerous victims in this crime,” Barnes said.

Cheng left behind a wife and two children, Barnes said.

“He’s a beloved member of his community, and is known for his hard work in sports medicine,” Barnes said.

Undersheriff Jeff Hallock said in a press conference that churchgoers detained the suspect, disarmed him and “hogtied” him.

Laguna Woods is a city in Orange County adjacent to Laguna Hills and Lake Forest. The city is located about 10 miles from University of California Irvine.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. Cheng Was a Doctor of Sports Medicine & Was Drawn to Practice Medicine After Watching His Dad Care for His Community in a Small Town in Texas

Cheng was a doctor of sports medicine at South Coast Medical Group in Aliso Viejo, according to his biography. Cheng said in a video that his dad inspired him to become a doctor.

“I come from a family of physicians, and I saw that care that my father imbued upon his patients in a small community in east Texas, and I saw the community rally around him and embrace him as a physician in the community, and I love that,” Cheng said in the 2012 video. “It’s those small town values that were ingrained in me when I was younger that really helped create this sense of community, and in this modern society, these modern times, we miss a lot of that.”

He said the relationship between a patient and a doctor is special, and that he gets to know his patients, their families and their communities through his practice.

“What’s beautiful is that I live in the same community. We try to meet patients where they’re at, and some are ready for a total life change, and some are just not ready for that,” he said.

Cheng said he tries to personalize care based on what his patients say they need, and that patients have told him he is the first doctor that has truly listened to them.

Cheng said southern California is home to many talented athletes, weekend warriors and aspiring athletes. His role is to understand the goals of each of his patients, he said.

“With each individual patient that comes in our doors, the goal is that somehow we can touch their lives for the better,” he said. “We’re planting seeds in this person’s heart and in their mind on how they can take care of themselves, and when they’re taking care of themselves, then they’re able to take care of their family, which creates a more positive family environment, which then translates into better communities.”

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.

Organizers wrote:

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.

irvine taiwanese presbyterian church

Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian ChurchThe Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church website shows photos of the congregation gathered for Thanksgiving in 2021.

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.”

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.'”

irvine taiwanese presbyterian church shooting

GettyOrange Sheriff deputies and investigators gather on Calle Sonora after one person died and four people were critically injured in a shooting at a Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods on Sunday, May 15, 2022.

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. Dr. Cheng Was a Husband & Father of 2 Children

Cheng had two children and was married, Barnes said during a press conference May 16. His profile published by his medical group said that empathy was a defining characteristic of Cheng, and that becoming a father only strengthened that empathy.

“As a parent of two children, Dr. Cheng has a unique ability to empathize with a parent’s concern for a young child’s cough. His athletic endeavors and his prestigious sports medicine studies have prepared him extensively for numerous other situations,” his profile says. “He often gives appropriate and valued advice to both the second-grade aspiring soccer star and the most serious of adult athletes.”

Geneva Presbyterian Church congregants gathered for a worship service shortly before a 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. Cheng Was a Martial Arts Instructor & a Sports Enthusiast

Cheng was a lifelong martial arts enthusiast who was first drawn to the sport in childhood, his online biography says. He worked as a martial arts instructor in addition to working as a sports medicine physician, and served as the team doctor for several southern California high schools, including Aliso Niguel, Laguna Beach and El Toro high schools, his profile says.

“It is rare to find a family doctor so well able to give quality care in such a wide variety of situations and arenas,” his profile says. “His commitment to care conventionally and holistically for his patient’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs continues to delight his new patients and long-term patients alike.”

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 asked 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. Cheng Grew Up in a Small Town in East Texas & Completed His Residency & Fellowship at the University of California at Los Angeles

Cheng was raised in a small town in east Texas, where he learned the values of community, he said in a 2012 video. He brought those values with him in his medical practice in southern California, where he completed his residency and fellowship, his profile says.

“From where does a doctor gather and shape his ‘bedside manner?’ Dr. John Cheng’s ‘kind manner’ began its shaping in his childhood, while growing up in a small hospitable town in Texas,” his profile says. “That shaping continued on through his residency and fellowship at the prestigious University of California at Los Angeles and Kaiser Programs in Family and Sports Medicine. Today, as he maintains his board certification and continues to research and utilize the latest technologies, his admired manner continues its shaping.”

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.”

5. Cheng’s Heroic Actions Against the Alleged Gunman Were Described as a Meeting of Good vs. Evil

Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said during a press conference May 16, 2022, that Cheng “did everything he could to disable the assailant” as one of the younger congregants in the church at the time of the attack.

“He sacrificed himself so others could live,” Spitzer said.

He said Cheng’s attempt to stop the gunman was “literally the meeting of good vs. evil.”

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.

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