Cindy Frazier was running errands Sunday afternoon when she heard the overwhelming sound of police and fire engine sirens as they raced to Geneva Presbyterian Church.
It was an unusual scene in the south Orange County suburb known as the home for the sprawling Leisure World retirement community.
The shooting at the church left one dead, five wounded and the surrounding community stunned and in mourning.
“I thought it was the fire flaring back up but it was just one after the other,” Frazier, a Laguna Woods resident, said of the emergency response. “It’s just so heartbreaking. Why? Why our community?”
The motive for the shooting remain unclear. A Taiwanese congregation was in the church at the time of the shooting, Undersheriff Jeff Hallock said. Authorities are interviewing more than 30 people who were inside the church at the time. A suspect was in custody.
Jeff Hernandez exited a Stater Bros. market just a short walk from the church to news about the shooting.
“Oh, my God, no wonder everything’s blocked off. I know there will be a frenzy of calls, everyone will be trying to reach me to find out what’s happening. People with guns seem to be popping up on both coasts — we gotta stay alert.”
The e-commerce businessman and Laguna Beach resident, who buys his groceries in Laguna Woods, said, “I offer condolences to everyone hurt and wonder how we can share our grief together.”
A cluster of strangers running errands in the strip mall across the street from the church said they became “instant” friends tying tidbits on the tragedy.
“I knew something was up when not just the cops, but the TV trucks piled in here,” said Sandi Pine, an Anaheim resident grabbing a drink at a coffee shop. “Every month, you hear about a shooting. People are nuts now.”
Customers ordering beverages walked to the street corner, hoping to find local seniors to learn what was going on. A teacher popped into Subway wanting to order foot-long sandwiches to bring to law enforcement surrounding the taped-off scene.
“In crisis, you form a temporary community,” said Pine as she read a news story about the incident to fellow cafe patrons. She then turned her attention to Twitter, intending to be “a microphone to keep everyone informed.”
Lisa Bartlett, an Orange County supervisor, added: “Today is a very dark day for the people of Laguna Woods in Orange County. And our thoughts and prayers are those with all those affected by this senseless tragedy. Just a day after the tragic and horrible actions that led to the senseless deaths of Americans at the Tops Friendly Markets in Buffalo, N.Y., we too are now dealing with people shot and their place of worship here in Laguna Woods.”
Patricia Wallace, 61, was inside her apartment when she heard the whirl of helicopters hovering above her complex across the street from the church.
“Things are just breaking down in society right now,” she said. “It’s just so sad.”
The news of “the shooting” trickled in slowly for the faithful at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Laguna Woods on Sunday afternoon.
The day’s afternoon service and subsequent luncheon was designated as a going-away party for 25-year senior pastor Leland Lanz, who is retiring and returning to his native Iowa in June. While there was still plenty of joy, there were also whispers and prayers for victims of the shooting at nearby Geneva Presbyterian, less than a mile away.
“This is very shocking — a shooting on Sunday?” said Ernesto Pechardo, 66, who was looking forward to honoring Lanz. “Today was supposed to be a celebration and instead we have helicopters flying all over our heads [because of a] shooting at a House of God.”
Pechardo, who lives in Laguna Woods, said as soon as he arrived inside the parking lot, the questions began. He and fellow churchgoers couldn’t understand the motives or reasoning for such a “terrible act.”
“It’s really scary,” said Tina Baez, 43, who hadn’t been aware of what transpired. “I mean, you walk into church, a sanctuary, and people are talking about the shooting. I didn’t know what was happening.”
Randy Hall of Los Angeles was visiting a cousin in Orange County when that cousin heard her friend had attended services before gunshots were fired. “It’s crazy how we are all connected,” said the software distributor.
“I didn’t know anything about the senior community in this location and now, my fingers are tapping away, hoping to find updates [online] to find out about a new danger zone. This place looks so idyllic. Clearly, crime can happen anywhere now.”
Hall’s phone rang with word that churchgoers were talking about making food baskets for families of people affected. Someone was posting on Facebook, asking for donations and for the faithful to pray. A police helicopter circled above the perimeter of the crime scene.
“We were heading for the beach,” Hall said. “Now we’re heading to buy sympathy flowers.”