A church shooting met with 'exceptional heroism': What unfolded in Laguna Woods

What happened in Laguna Woods?


Details are beginning to emerge about what happened inside a Laguna Woods church Sunday after 1 p.m., when a gunman opened fire and some parishioners were able to subdue him and recover two handguns.

Authorities said the actions of churchgoers likely saved lives. As of Sunday night, federal and local authorities were still piecing together what happened. A suspect is in custody, but authorities are not sure of a motive. One person died, and five others were injured.

Here is a rundown of what we know:

The shooting

The gunfire erupted at 1:26 p.m. inside Geneva Presbyterian Church.

Tom Cramer, leader of the Presbytery of Los Ranchos and a former pastor at the Geneva Presbyterian Church, said the shooting happened at a lunch reception honoring the former pastor of the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, who is returning to Taiwan to lead a congregation there. Cramer did not know if the pastor was harmed in the shooting. The Taiwanese church has been holding services at Geneva for 10 years, Cramer said.

Authorities are interviewing more than 30 people who were inside the church at the time. The victims were described as mostly Asian and mostly of Taiwanese descent, authorities said. The oldest victim was 92.

The suspect

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.

“At this time, we are working very hard to determine the motive,” said Kristi Johnson, assistant director in charge of the FBI Los Angeles office

The ATF said the firearms recovered are commercially available firearms. The exact type of weapons were not released.

“We’re still in the investigative phase, and so we’ll review the case and decide based on motive and the information that we get whether we present it prosecuted state or federal,” said Undersheriff Jeff Hallock.

The churchgoers

After the gunman opened fire, a group of churchgoers subdued the shooter and “hogtied” his legs with an extension cord and took two handguns from him, authorities said.

“That group of churchgoers displayed what we believe is exceptional heroism and bravery,” Hallock said, later adding, “It’s safe to say that had they not intervened, this situation could have been much worse.”

When deputies arrived, he was already detained, officials said. He was not injured.

Peggy Huang, a Yorba Linda city councilwoman, said her parents are members of the Taiwanese Presbyterian Church congregation in Laguna Woods. She’s been texting members of the congregation all day to check in on them. They told her they didn’t recognize the gunman and that they hadn’t seen him at the church before. The man opened fire as churchgoers were taking photographs with the pastor who was visiting from Taiwan.

After the shots rang out, the pastor picked up a chair and hit the gunman with it. Then other members of the congregation grabbed him, Huang said. She added that many members of the church have military backgrounds.

The efforts of the churchgoers prompted praise in many quarters.

“I want to thank those people who were wise enough to take action and endanger themselves to save others inside that church,” said Laguna Woods Mayor Carol Moore. “Our thoughts go out to all the members of that congregation and their families.”

Authorities released the following information about the victims who were injured:

  • Victim #1: 66-year-old Asian male, gunshot wound
  • Victim #2: 92-year-old Asian male, gunshot wound
  • Victim #3: 82-year-old Asian male, gunshot wound
  • Victim #4: 75-year-old Asian male, gunshot wound
  • Victim #5: 86-year-old Asian female, gunshot wound

No names were provided. The Orange County Sheriff didn’t release the age of the person who died.

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