At a press conference conducted by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department on Monday, Sheriff Donald Barnes said John Cheng, a sports medicine doctor, immediately pursued the suspect as the shooting at the interior of the Geneva Presbyterian Church on El Toro Road was beginning to unfold.
“Without Dr. Cheng’s actions, there is no doubt that there would be many more victims in this crime,” Barnes said.
Barnes said according to witnesses, Cheng went straight to the suspect – who was identified as David Chou, 68, from Las Vegas – and knocked him down.
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A group of worshipers intervened to help Cheng, using objects inside the church to arrest Chou, who was eventually tied up by the legs with an extension cord.
During the struggle, Cheng was shot several times. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
“Dr. Cheng’s heroic actions…literally the sense of good versus evil between Dr. Cheng and the suspect in this case,” Barnes said.
Cheng, who was 52, leaves behind his wife and two children.
“After others were shot, he took it upon himself to charge across the room and do whatever he could to incapacitate the assailant,” Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said. “He was shot and then there was another attempt to shoot him, but the gun jammed and he succumbed to his injuries.”
Spitzer went on to say that Cheng “sacrificed himself so others could live.”
“This irony in a church doesn’t escape me,” he said.
Meanwhile, Chou was convicted on one count of murder and five counts of attempted murder. He is being held on $1 million bail.
The Orange County district attorney’s office is expected to formally charge him Monday.
Ken Lee, 81, was inside the church with his wife at the time and told ABC News he thought the sounds of the first shots were firecrackers. Lee said he was about 15 feet from the suspected shooter when he began to open fire from the front of the church.
“Once the shooter ran out of bullets and tried to refuel, our pastor grabbed a chair and knocked him over,” Lee said. “Then three or four guys came to help. One guy took off his belt and tied him to the chair. Three or four people pushed him to the ground until the FBI and the police arrived.”
At least two weapons were taken from the suspect by parishioners, officials said.
Six people were shot in total.
The injured, four men and a woman, are all of Asian origin and aged between 66 and 92. All were taken to local hospitals for treatment.
It is unclear what prompted the shooting. Investigators are working to determine if Chou has any connection to the Presbyterian Church of Geneva or to the congregation.
“At this time, we don’t know what the suspect’s motive may be, if he had an intended target, or if this was even a hate-related incident,” Undersheriff Jeff said. Hallock at Sunday’s press conference. “Members of the trauma intervention program are also on hand to provide crisis counseling to congregants.”
The FBI has joined this ongoing investigation.
“First, my deepest condolences to the families and victims here today, and also a heartfelt thank you to the faithful who are very brave in their actions today,” said Kristi Johnson, Deputy Director in Charge – FBI Los Angels. “We have linguists arriving soon to help us. We have our evidence response team on standby, and we also have our behavioral analysis unit present on the scene.”
“Obviously, motive is always the question, which determines the extent of federal involvement, or whether federal or local prosecutions are pursued,” Johnson said. “And right now we are working very hard to determine the motive.”
ATF is also participating in the investigation.
“Our officers have initiated an emergency search for the recovered firearms,” said Stephen Galloway, Assistant Special Agent in Charge, ATF Los Angeles. “These traces are currently ongoing and will be fully investigated once completed.”
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