The congregation from the Taiwanese Presbyterian Church had just finished eating lunch — a special bento with teriyaki chicken — and were taking photos with a beloved pastor who had just returned from two years in Taiwan when gunfire erupted.
Churchgoer Jerry Chen, 72, was in a nearby kitchen at the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods just before 1:30 p.m. Sunday when he heard the shots.
“I heard the gun sounds,” he said. “Then I heard two or three more gunshots. He was just randomly shooting.”
Chen watched as one person tried to run outside.
“I saw some people fall down or go under the table,” he said. “I knew something was wrong. I called 911.”
The gunman shot six people, one fatally.
Chen said he then saw the pastor, Billy Chang, hit the gunman with a chair when the shooter paused to reload his weapon. Other members of the congregation tackled him. Authorities said they hogtied him with an extension cord, a move officials believe likely saved many more lives. A law enforcement source told The Times the gunman, who has not been identified, had blocked the exits to the hall to prevent people from getting out.
Peggy Huang, a Yorba Linda city councilwoman whose parents are members of the Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, said some members told her the man opened fire as churchgoers were taking photographs with the pastor. She said many members of the church have military backgrounds.
Before the service started, members had greeted the gunman — who they had never seen before — and welcomed him. He told them he had attended services several times, but the members were doubtful because no one recognized him, Chen said.
Little is known about the shooting itself. But the Orange County Sheriff’s Department said an Asian man in his 60s is in custody and that he is not from the Orange County area. Law enforcement sources told The Times the suspect was a 68-year-old Asian man who is originally from Las Vegas. It’s unclear what connection — if any — he had to the church.
Chen said the shooting marred what was a special occasion. The congregation was excited to see Pastor Chang, who had been their pastor for 20 years before going to Taiwan, Chen said.
He was inside the El Toro Road church for hours Sunday afternoon being interviewed by authorities. They had been having services at the church for more than a decade.
“Our church is very kind,” he said. “We are all very kind to other people.”
Officials praised the actions of churchgoers.
“That group of churchgoers displayed what we believe is exceptional heroism and bravery,” Undersheriff Jeff Hallock said, later adding, “It’s safe to say that had they not intervened this situation could have been much worse.”