Billy Chang stood before the crowd, his voice faltering as he tried to find the strength to speak a day after a gunman, allegedly fueled by hatred of the Taiwanese community, opened fire at a Laguna Woods church.
He and about 100 others were at Geneva Presbyterian Church on Sunday when the shooting occurred, leaving 52-year-old John Cheng dead and five others injured. Chang was among those who helped restrain the shooter, preventing further bloodshed.
“I want to say thank you to everyone who prayed for us in this difficult time,” he whispered into a microphone during a prayer vigil in Irvine on Monday.
Chang took off his glasses. Tears welled up and a group of pastors and local officials embraced him and prayed as he wept.
After a lineup of speakers — including pastors, city officials and law enforcement leaders — Chang’s short testimonial hit home for many, commanding a standing ovation from the audience of about 150.
The 67-year-old is the former pastor of Geneva Presbyterian Church and had attended Sunday’s service while visiting from Taiwan. The shooting took place during a lunch in Chang’s honor.
In an interview with The Times, Chang said he was one of the congregants who tackled the suspect. He and his wife heard the gunshots during the luncheon but weren’t sure what to think.
“At first, I was not sure what happened,” he said. “I thought it was a joke.”
He looked around and saw others had crouched down and realized the sound was of gunshots.
Chang spotted the shooter and ran up to him with a chair as his weapon.
“He got scared. I don’t think he expected someone to attack him,” he said.
Chang said he pushed the gunman to the floor and asked others for help. He called out to his wife to find something so they could tie the man up.
She brought him some electrical cord, and he and the others hogtied the suspect while others called 911, he said.
Investigators have provided few details but said they believe the deadly attack was a politically motivated hate incident.
“We believe, based on what we’ve discovered so far, that he specifically targeted the Taiwanese community, and this is one representation of that Taiwanese community,” said Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes, referring to the church.
The suspect was identified as David Wenwei Chou, 68, of Las Vegas.
Chou was born in mainland China and relocated to Taiwan before moving to the United States, Barnes said. He has been living in the United States for years and is a U.S. citizen.
He was arrested Sunday and is being held in lieu of $1-million bail at the Orange County Intake Release Center, jail records show. He is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday.
Sheriff’s spokeswoman Carrie Braun said he was booked on one count of murder and five counts of attempted murder.
In addition to the local criminal case, the FBI has opened a federal hate crime investigation into the shooting, said Kristi Johnson, assistant director in charge of the bureau’s Los Angeles office.
The outburst of violence hit close to home for some in attendance at Monday’s vigil.
Albert Chen, a 65-year-old who lives in Mission Viejo, attended so he could pay his respects to Cheng, who was killed while charging at the gunman and attempting to disarm him.
Officials said that Cheng’s actions allowed others to subdue the shooter.
Chen, who is Taiwanese American and attends a Taiwanese church in Irvine, said Cheng was his primary physician.
“He was very kind, very caring. He was careful with my health,” Chen said.
He was accompanied at the vigil by his 34-year-old daughter, Joyce, who said she wanted to support her father and their community.
“The Taiwanese Christian community is very tight-knit,” she said.
The prayer vigil included pastors and congregants from various faith communities in Orange County. Among them was the Rev. Ralph E. Williamson, pastor of Christ Our Redeemer A.M.E. Church.
“It could have been this congregation,” Williamson said about the shooting. “We will not be intimidated by fear. We will not be afraid to come together and lift up our heads in the way we do.”
The pastor added that Monday’s vigil was also held in response to Saturday’s racially motivated mass shooting at a Buffalo, N.Y., supermarket.
A white gunman live-streamed his racist rampage as he opened fire with an AR-15-style rifle while clad in body armor, killing 10 people and wounding three others.
Of the 13 victims, 11 are Black and two are white, according to Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia.
Officials also said the gunman traveled about 200 miles to target the historically Black community.