Billy Chang was a pastor who helped subdue the gunman in the Laguna Woods church shooting. One person was killed and five others injured at a luncheon for the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church at Geneva Presbyterian Church, California.
The suspect, who is being held in custody, has not been identified. The names of the victims were not released either. KTAR identified Chang as the pastor honored at the luncheon.
Undersheriff Jeff Hallock said in a news conference that churchgoers arrested, disarmed and “tied up” the suspect. The suspect is an Asian male in his 60s, Hallock said. His name was not published. Hallock said they were still working to establish a motive and they didn’t know if it was a “hate-related” incident. Hallock said it was not yet known if the suspect had any ties to the church and if any victims were being targeted. The churchgoers who intervened were celebrated as heroes because they had prevented further deaths and injuries. Two handguns were recovered from the scene, Hallock said.
Four people suffered life-threatening injuries and one minor injury, officials said. The injured victims were taken to local hospitals and the person killed was found dead at the scene. All six victims are adults, according to the Orange County Sheriff.
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Chang hit the gunman in the head with a chair while the suspect paused to reload his guns, Jerry Chen, a longtime rally attendee, told KTAR News. Chen, 72, said others came to disarm the suspect, grab him and tie him up with extension cords.
“It was amazing how brave (Chang) and the others were,” Chen told KTAR. “It’s just so sad. I never thought something like this would happen in my church, in my community.”
Undersheriff Jeff Hallock told the OC Register that many of the people present at the church at the time of the shooting were of Taiwanese descent. The Irvine Taiwanese Church website says they meet at Geneva Presbyterian Church. Hallock confirmed during a press conference that a church luncheon was held after the service.
Hallock saluted the intervening churchgoers, who arrested and disarmed the suspect for their “extreme heroism and bravery”.
The Los Ranchos Presbytery said in a statement to the Orange County Register that it is “deeply saddened by a fatal shooting that took place at a lunchtime reception honoring a former pastor of the Taiwanese congregation nesting at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods.” … Please keep the leadership of the Taiwanese community and Geneva in your prayers as they care for those traumatized by this shooting.”
The newspaper reported that the church is also home to Geneva School, a Christian middle school. The OC Register reported the school “appears to have sent a message to parents informing them of Sunday’s shooting, in which they said the violence took place during ‘Taiwanese church luncheon.'”
A translation from the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church website refers to Genesis 12 and God telling Abraham to leave his homeland to go to the promised land. Pastor Li Furen compared the Bible story to the journey of parishioners from their homeland to the United States.
“Just like Abraham, a group of Puritans entered the new continent of the United States in the 17th century to seek freedom of belief and a better life. In search of their dreams, we also became new immigrants to this country in the 20th century and faced unknown people. Environmental language and culture, we have experienced many challenges and difficulties, but because of this we can better appreciate God’s wonderful guidance and rich blessings,” the translation reads.
The pastors are listed as Li Furen and Albany Lee.
“IRVINE Taiwan Presbyterian Church is one big loving family. We invite all our friends to join us with open arms. In the love of God and the grace of Jesus Christ, we hope that because we support one another, all brothers and sisters can gain more knowledge and also walk the path of life stronger and happier.”
Chang was honored at lunch on May 15, 2022, where about 40 parishioners gathered at the parish hall after their morning service, Chen told KTAR News. Chang had served in the church for about 20 years “and was a loved and respected member of the community,” reported KTAR News.
Chang returned to Taiwan two years ago and has just returned to the United States, Chen told the news agency. The Taiwanese church has been meeting at the Geneva Presbyterian Church for about 10 years, Chen told the news channel.
Members of the Geneva Presbyterian Church gathered for a service just before the shooting at the church and were told at the embassy to welcome all, including those who break religious traditions. Rev. Ryan Romeburg spoke to parishioners about tradition and challenged them to ask themselves how they feel when they hear about something “new” in a video of the sermon that was posted to Facebook and later removed. He said anything “new” could create tension among Christians because the religion is rooted in a tradition that goes back thousands of years.
The sermon was based on Revelation 21:5, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
Romeburg said the Bible verse refers to a passage from Acts about welcoming into the church those who have broken traditional values, such as eating kosher food.
“In other words, people didn’t have to jump through hoops to be accepted. They didn’t have to tick off a list of rituals to be loved. They didn’t have to kiss the ring of the mighty before their vote was welcome. They didn’t have to pretend to be someone else,” Romeburg said in the sermon.
The Geneva Presbyterian Church website says its regular Sunday services are at 10:30 a.m. The calendar of events says a “high school hang” was scheduled for Sunday at 7 p.m. and no events were listed for the afternoon after morning service. The church bulletin states that the sermon for May 15, 2022 was “Celebrating The Calling,” delivered by Rev. Ryan Romberg.
The sermon was streamed live on the church’s Facebook page. The site was later removed.
Several people shared photos of the active shooter scene on social media in the moments after filming.
A Photo by a social media user showed a line of fire engines in front of the Geneva Presbyterian Church.
“On the way to Laguna Beach and the road is closed.” Judy Perez wrote on Twitter. “Incredibly sad! I hope the victims are well!”
A Twitter user shared a photo of MPs and other first responders converging on the area, with the Geneva Presbyterian Church in the background.
“Drive to Laguna Beach on El Toro and check it out. So sad,” the Twitter user wrote.
“MPs are responding to reports of a shooting at a church on Block 24000 of El Toro Road in Laguna Woods. Several victims were shot. More details to come, PIO underway,” the Orange County Sheriff said wrote on Twitter shortly after the shooting. “We arrested one person and secured a weapon that may have been involved. We are working to release information as soon as possible. We ask for patience as this event unfolds.”
Orange County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Carrie Braun told OC Registrar deputies and Orange County Fire Authority paramedics that they responded to the scene on Sunday, May 15, 2022.