By AMY TAXIN and JULIE WATSON – Associated Press
ALISO VIEJO, Calif. (AP) — He was known to all as simply Dr. John, the quiet, calm doctor who tutored children in kung fu, finding time between patient appointments to encourage people to learn self defense. So it was no surprise to his friends and colleagues that John Cheng spent his final moments saving others by rushing a gunman who shot at a Southern California church luncheon of mostly older Taiwanese. , including Cheng’s recently widowed mother.
The 52-year-old father of two often looked for ways to keep people safe. He was concerned enough about the growing number of mass shootings that he had taken safety courses to prepare for a situation like the one that took his life on Sunday.
“It was characteristic of Dr. Cheng to go after this shooter,” said Erica Triplett, director of Cheng’s office. “It doesn’t surprise any of us. Dr. Cheng exemplified what he was built for – his heroism that saved so many not only in this church, but throughout his career.
The family and sports medicine doctor was like family to the staff and he encouraged them to learn kung fu, explaining to them the importance of knowing self-defense techniques. He also learned to handle a gun for the same reason.
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This preparation combined with Cheng’s serene disposition likely gave him a propensity to act heroically, according to active shooting experts. Most people in these situations freeze.
“People don’t rise to the occasion; they fall to the level of training they have,” said active fireman expert Chris Grollnek, who thinks such training should be as common as fire drills. “This man, as a doctor, was obviously inoculated (to deal with) bad things, from a bone protruding from someone’s arm to a tragic event like what happened inside Orange County Church.”
Authorities credit Cheng’s swift action with saving perhaps dozens of lives at a celebratory luncheon for congregants and their former pastor at the Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in Irvine, which worships at the Geneva Presbyterian Church in the Orange County community of Laguna Woods.
Prosecutors 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 it gave him access to a large group of Taiwanese to target, authorities said.
Chou spent about an hour with the lunch attendees, apparently to gain their trust so he could carry out his plot, authorities said. He chained the doors and glued the locks. He had two 9mm handguns and three bags containing four Molotov cocktail-type incendiary devices and ammunition.
When Chou started shooting, Cheng charged at him and was shot. He died at the scene but his quick action disrupted the shooter, who was then hit by a chair thrown by former church pastor Billy Chang and jumped on by three congregation members who used an extension cord to tie it up to the font. arrival.
Cheng was the only one killed. Five other people were injured, including four men aged 66 to 92 and an 86-year-old woman.
Sheriff Don Barnes called Cheng’s heroism “a meeting of good against evil”.
“Dr. Cheng’s selfless love for others prevented a hate-filled act from claiming more victims than his own,” Barnes said in a tweet.
Those who knew Cheng said selflessness defined his life.
He started his practice knocking on doors to introduce himself as the area’s new family doctor, said Johnna Gherardini, executive director of the South Coast Medical Group. Cheng gave physical exams to student athletes and then donated the money he received to Aliso Niguel High School.
Gherardini took kung fu with her daughter at Cheng’s request.
“He always taught us to protect ourselves,” she said.
He was remembered by his patients as a keen listener. “He was unfathomably kind,” read a note left by a patient taped to his office door, where people laid flowers to pay their respects.
In a video posted online, Cheng said he was inspired to get involved in medicine after seeing the care his father provided as a doctor in their small East Texas community, where the family moved from Taiwan when Cheng was a baby.
“It’s those small-town values that were ingrained in me when I was younger that really helped create that sense of community,” said Cheng, who graduated from Texas Tech University School of Medicine and completed his residency in California. “And in this modern society, in these modern times, we miss a lot of that.”
He called the patient-doctor relationship special “so you know a lot about the patient, their family, the community they live in. And the beautiful thing is that I live in the same community.”
Cheng’s pastor and close friend, Ira Angustain, took a course with him to learn how to handle a gun safely.
“We talked about how people were losing their minds and shooting people for no reason,” said Angustain, pastor of Kingdom Covenant Church in nearby Lake Forest community. “He didn’t want to feel helpless.
On Sunday morning, Cheng texted Angustain to let him know he wouldn’t be coming to the service because he was taking his mother to her church.
She had stopped going there since her husband passed away a few months ago, still mourning his death. But Chang, the former pastor of the church who had written to express his condolences to her, was from Taiwan and the church had invited her to a service and lunch to see him.
Cheng volunteered to drive his mother, but in a horrific twist of fate, instead of the ride giving her peace, she would end up witnessing her death that day.
“My heart aches,” the visiting pastor wrote in a statement.
Shortly before the shooting, Angustain responded to Cheng’s text, telling him to say hello to his mother.
“You are such a good son,” Angustain sent Cheng.
“I can always be better,” Cheng replied.
Less than 15 minutes later, Cheng didn’t hesitate to charge the shooter.
“Evil did not eliminate Dr. John,” Angustain said. “Dr. John chose to lay down his life for others so they could live.
Watson reported from San Diego. Associated Press writer Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles and news researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.
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