California church leaders and shooting survivors join in prayer

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LAGUNA WOODS, Calif. (AP) — When a gunman began shooting at a Taiwanese American church luncheon, Shoei Su said he froze.

The retired assessor uses a walker and said he and many elderly worshipers did not immediately know what was going on. He said the gunman said nothing before shooting worshipers who were taking pictures after finishing their lunch after the prayer service last Sunday morning.

Nearly a week later, Su said he could not sleep and was struggling to recover from the attack that left one dead and five injured in the close-knit congregation in the Laguna community. Woods, in southern California, made up largely of retirees.

“At that time, we weren’t afraid,” he said. “Later, when you think about it, you are scared.”

His comments came as survivors, congregants and leaders of the Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in Irvine joined in prayer on Saturday and thanked community members for their support during an event on the campus of Irvine. the Presbyterian Church in Geneva, where the Taiwanese congregation shares space.

Authorities say the shooter, David Chou, 68, of Las Vegas, was motivated by hatred of Taiwan, where he was born and raised after his family was forced out of mainland China when communists took over. control. He had no connection to the church but spent about an hour with the attendees, apparently to gain their trust so he could carry out his plot, authorities said.

Authorities said Chou had two 9mm handguns and three bags containing four Molotov cocktail-type incendiary devices and ammunition. They said he chained the doors and taped the locks before he started shooting.

Dr. John Cheng, the 52-year-old son of a devotee, accused him and was shot. He died at the scene, but his quick action unsettled the shooter, who was then hit by a chair thrown by former church pastor Billy Chang and jumped on by several congregation members who used an extension cord to tie him down until the police arrived. .

Cheng was the only person killed. Five others were injured, including four men aged 66 to 92 and an 86-year-old woman.

The community is still reeling from the attack. At Saturday’s event, worshipers bowed their heads in prayer and many sobbed. Bouquets of sunflowers and roses were arranged with notes reading “RIP Dr. Cheng”.

Pastor Albany Lee, the congregation leader who was absent last Sunday, said he remembered meeting Cheng a few months ago while visiting family after Cheng’s father died. He said Cheng, who doesn’t usually frequent the Taiwanese congregation but took his mother there last week, is in his eyes more than a hero but one of the two angels who, along with Chang, saved the community.

On Sunday, his congregation will resume its weekly prayer service. Security will be reinforced and no media coverage will be allowed on the Geneva campus.

Lee said trauma specialists will be available to help the community over the next few weeks and that coming together for worship is essential, despite the pain many are feeling.

“I think this is the most important time we need to come together as a religious community,” he said. “We can help each other.”

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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