Orange County Geneva Presbyterian
Law enforcement officers are seen with a shaken woman after a deadly gunfire erupted at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods. REUTERS/David Swanson

Congregants used an extension cord to hogtie the gunman who killed a man and wounded five Asian churchgoers — four critically — at an Orange County church Sunday afternoon, authorities said.

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

According to the sheriff’s department, the five wounded victims were men aged 66, 75, 82 and 92 and a woman aged 86. The deceased victim was described only as a man.

Deputies said the shooting happened around 1:25 p.m. inside Geneva Presbyterian Church at 24301 El Toro Road in Laguna Woods.

“Four victims have been critically wounded, one with minor injuries. All victims are adults, and are en route to the hospital. One victim is deceased at the scene,” the department reported shortly after deputies arrived.

Hallock said there were 30 to 40 people, many of Taiwanese descent, inside the church during the shooting. The attack happened during a banquet following the morning service, and churchgoers detained the man, tying him up with an extension cord.

Two handguns were taken from the attacker, whom Hallock described as an Asian man in his 60s. 

“At this time, we do not know what the suspect’s motive may be or whether he had an intended target, or whether this is even a hate-related incident,” Hallock said, adding that authorities believe the suspect does not live in the area.

The shooting comes one day after a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, was targeted by a heavily armed shooter who killed 10 people and wounded three others. Authorities arrested an 18-year-old white man in that crime, which they said was racially motivated. Eleven of the 13 victims were Black.

Congregant Jerry Chen, 72, told the Los Angeles Times he was in a nearby kitchen at the church 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 told the Times 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.

The Los Angeles branch of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sent special agents to Laguna Woods to assist with the investigation.

Stephen Galloway, the assistant special agent in charge of the Los Angeles office, said the agency has placed an emergency trace on the handguns recovered at the scene. The trace was sent to the ATF’s office in West Virginia and should return quickly to the ATF’s local field office in Orange County. Once they get the trace information back the next step will be to identify the dealers who sold the man his handguns, Galloway said.

Kristi Johnson, agent in charge of the local FBI office, said the bureau was providing extra resources to assist the sheriff’s department in their investigation. “Right now we are working very hard to provide a motive for the shooting. This is critically important.”

The bureau’s Behavioral Analysis Unit was on scene.

Laguna Woods is a “relatively exclusive (community) for people 55 and older,” according to NBC News. “It opened as Leisure World in 1964. It became the county’s 32nd city in 1999.”

Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett of the Fifth District said the board was making sure that mental health professionals would be made available to those impacted by the shooting.

Sheriff’s officials said they expect to hold another news conference early Monday morning.

El Toro Road was closed between Calle Sonora and Canyon Wren, and people were urged to avoid the area.

“A shooting at a church in Laguna Woods has left multiple people injured and one deceased. This is upsetting and disturbing news, especially less than a day after a mass shooting in Buffalo,” said Rep. Katie Porter, D- Irvine, whose district includes Laguna Woods. “This should not be our new normal. I will work hard to support the victims and their families.”

Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn also weighed in, releasing the following statement regarding deadly gun violence in both Buffalo, New York and Orange County. “We cannot be a nation where multiple mass shootings in a single weekend is normal, where gun violence and the hate that so often drives it is tolerated. We need Congress to do something and pass the same, commonsense gun laws that every other modernized democracy has in place, and here in L.A. County, I am committed to getting as many guns off the street as I can.”

The office of California Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted the following statement:

“We are actively monitoring the shooting at a church in Laguna Woods and working closely with local law enforcement. No one should have to fear going to their place of worship. Our thoughts are with the victims, community, and all those impacted by this tragic event.”

Sen. Dave Min, D-Irvine, issued a statement extending his “thoughts and prayers,” adding, “It is almost unthinkable that one of the safest places in the country would be hit by the specter of gun violence.”

“We should refuse to accept these tragedies as the new normal in our schools, our houses of worship or anywhere,” Min said.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, issued a statement, saying, “It is horrifying to be grieving yet another tragic shooting in just 72 hours — another weekend in America defined by senseless violence.

“Tonight, my heart is with the congregants of Geneva Presbyterian Church and the entire Laguna Woods community as they mourn and pray for their loved ones. My heart is also with those in Buffalo, in Milwaukee, and every community torn apart by gun violence.”

Schiff concluded by adding, “I will never accept this bloodshed as unavoidable. It can be stopped. But as we’ve seen over the past few days, months and years, unless we take immediate action on gun safety measures, history will repeat itself. Again and again. Enough is enough. We must act.”

–-City News Service and staff and wire reports

Updated 1:55 a.m., Monday, May 16, 2022