Doctor called "hero" by sheriff
Murder victim Dr. John Cheng. Photo courtesy OCSheriffBarnes Twitter

Tributes continued Wednesday for Dr. John Cheng, who charged a gunman inside a Laguna Woods church and struggled to disarm him, sacrificing himself in an act authorities say saved the lives of the Taiwanese congregation targeted by the attacker.

As of midday Wednesday, a GoFundMe page established to assist Cheng’s family had raised more than $106,000

“His heroism saved so many people NOT only at that church but throughout his career,” organizers wrote on the page. “His family is grief-stricken by this loss which comes only three months after the loss of Dr. Cheng’s father. Dr. Cheng was the sole provider supporting his two children in high school and his wife. They are heartbroken and reeling from the loss of their father. As his colleagues, family and community, we want to honor his life by supporting his family during this difficult time.”

Cheng, 52, died Sunday afternoon when a gunman opened fire inside the Geneva Presbyterian Church, 24301 El Toro Road, where a Taiwanese congregation was holding a luncheon to celebrate the return of its former pastor. Cheng had accompanied his widowed mother to the church.

Authorities said the gunman, identified as David Wenwei Chou, 68, of Las Vegas, carried out the shooting due to a long-standing grievance against the Taiwanese community over tensions with China. Chou is a Taiwanese immigrant who had no known connection with the Laguna Woods congregation or anyone in it.

Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said Monday that Cheng ran at the gunman when he paused to reload his weapon and struggled to disarm him. The sheriff called Cheng a hero.

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

After Cheng was shot, the attacker’s gun jammed, and other parishioners descended on him. The pastor struck the gunman with a chair, and other parishioners held him down and hog-tied him using an electrical cord.

Cheng was killed in the shooting, and five others were wounded.

Chou was charged Tuesday with capital murder, five counts of attempted murder and four counts of possession of an explosive device. Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said he believes Chou intended to kill everyone in the church, then burn down the building.

Barnes said Chou was in possession of four incendiary devices resembling Molotov cocktails, along with a bag of additional ammunition. Authorities said he barricaded doors of the church in hopes of locking the congregation inside so they could not escape the shooting, which he carried out with a pair of legally purchased semiautomatic handguns.

Chou appeared in court Tuesday, but his arraignment was delayed until June 10. He remains jailed without bail.

“My heart continues to ache for Dr. John Cheng and his family,” Rep. Katie Porter, D-Irvine, wrote on Twitter Wednesday. “A hero, Dr. Cheng was killed while confronting a shooter at his mother’s church, subduing the attacker long enough for the congregation to capture him. I will keep his sacrifice in my thoughts — especially in Washington.”

Porter on Wednesday joined Rep. Michelle Steel, R-Huntington Beach, and Rep. Mike Levin, D-Dana Point, in a moment of silence on the House floor in honor of Cheng.

“Local law enforcement agents said without Dr. Cheng’s courage, there would have been more casualties that day,” Steel said. “He was a beloved son, husband, a father of two, and a respected physician. He was a hero. We share our condolences with his family and stand here today to honor his life.”

A Mass in Cheng’s honor was held Tuesday afternoon at his children’s school, Santa Margarita Catholic High School.

Cheng’s medical practice, South Coast Medical Group in Aliso Viejo, paid tribute to him on its website, calling him a “simplistic, humble, utmost giving man.”

“He supported his community in so many ways. He donated multiple hours of his time on so many different occasions. Dr. Cheng always listened to his patients and gave them the time they needed to feel heard. Dr. Cheng practiced medicine in ways we admired. He always assured his patients left our practice feeling so much better than when they arrived.”

Cheng was certified in family and sports medicine, the son of a physician and an “accomplished martial arts instructor.” He grew up in Texas, studied at Texas Tech School of Medicine and did his residency at UCLA.

Authorities contend that Chou went to the church Sunday and mingled with parishioners before pulling out two weapons and opening fire.

Barnes said investigators have determined the shooting was an isolated incident carried out solely by Chou, and the shooting was a “politically motivated hate incident.” Barnes said the suspect “was upset about political tensions between China and Taiwan.”

Sheriff’s officials initially said Chou was born in China and his family moved to Taiwan, but on Tuesday investigators determined he was born and raised in Taiwan and that over the years he developed a “grievance” against the Taiwanese community as tensions between the two countries heightened, sheriff’s spokeswoman Carrie Braun said.

Investigators found a note in Chou’s car in the church parking lot that indicated his animosity toward Taiwan.

Investigators were still working to determine why Chou, who was a licensed security guard in Nevada, chose the Orange County congregation to target, since he had no known ties to anyone connected with it. Barnes said there is no similar congregation in Las Vegas and the one in Orange County may have been the closest one for the suspect.

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