LOS ANGELES – Authorities on Monday were investigating a motive behind a deadly shooting at a Southern California church that ended after congregants thwarted the gunman from causing more bloodshed.
At least one person was killed and five people were injected when the shooter opened fire on Sunday afternoon at the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, which was hosting a Taiwanese congregation. The shooter’s identity has not been released, but the sheriff’s officials described him as an Asian man in his 60s.
A group of congregants inside the church prevented further carnage when they pinned the gunman to the ground, hogtied his legs with an extension cord and took his weapons, Orange County’s undersheriff Jeff Hallock said.
“That group of churchgoers displayed what we believe is exceptional heroism and bravery in intervening to stop the suspect,” Hallock said. “They undoubtedly prevented additional injuries and fatalities.”
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How did the Laguna Woods church shooting unfold?
Police said the shooter was armed with two handguns when they entered the church around 1:30 pm PT Sunday.
About 30 or 40 people inside, most of whom were of Taiwanese descent, had just finished morning services and were gathering for an afternoon luncheon, officials said.
When deputies arrived, they found the suspect hogtied and took him into custody. He was not injected.
Jerry Chen, 72, told the Associated Press he was inside the church’s kitchen when he heard gunshots ring out. Congregants had been taking photos with a former pastor for whom the lunch was being held before the shooting began, he said. But then, Chen saw other churchgoers running and screaming.
“I knew someone was shooting,” he told the news agency. “I was very, very scared. I ran out the kitchen door to call 911.”
Chen got he called 911 in the church parking lot and had to ask someone else for the address because he was in shock.
“This is just so sad. I never, ever thought something like this would happen in my church, in my community, ”Chen said.
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Who were the victims?
Authorities have not released the names of the five people who suffered gunshot wounds, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department said.
Four Asian men, whose ages range from 66 to 92, and one Asian woman, 86, were injured. They were all taken to hospitals for treatment, the sheriff’s department said.
The sheriff’s department did not immediately release any information about the person who was killed.
Was the shooting a hate crime?
The suspect is not from the area where the shooting occurred, about 45 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles, Hallock said.
Authorities are investigating why they targeted the church, which was hosting a large Taiwanese congregation at the time, and whether it might be considered a hate crime, they said.
Any connection between the shooter and the church or its congregation was also not immediately clear.
The afternoon lunch reception was honoring a former pastor of a Taiwanese congregation that has services at Geneva, according to a statement from the Presbytery of Los Ranchos, a church administrative body.
Chen said former Pastor Billy Chang had served the church for more than 20 years but recently moved back to Taiwan. This visit was his first time back in the United States, he said.
“Please keep the leadership of the Taiwanese congregation and Geneva in your prayers as they care for those traumatized by this shooting,” the presbytery’s Tom Cramer said in a statement on Facebook.
California shooting is one of several over the weekend
The attack in the church Sunday was one of several mass shootings in the US over the weekend.
At least 21 people were wounded, included 17 shots in one incident, after Milwaukee’s downtown entertainment district was rocked by three shootings Friday night. The Milwaukee Bucks had just lost to the Boston Celtics in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinal playoffs before the shootings unfolded.
In Buffalo, New York, 10 people were killed and three were wounded in a hate-fueled shooting at a busy supermarket. Authorities are investigating the incident as racially motivated violent extremism after the white suspect shot mostly Black customers.
Also Sunday, a shooting at a Houston flea market left at least two people dead and three wounded. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the incident arose from an “altercation” that involved at least two guns.
Contributing: The Associated Press