Dr. John Cheng, who was killed Sunday in a shooting at a Taiwanese church in Southern California that also left five wounded, is being remembered as a “caring, kind and humble” member of the community.
Cheng was a 52-year-old sports medicine physician and father of two. He was attending a lunch banquet at the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, about 45 miles south of Los Angeles, with his mother when the shooting began. He tackled the shooter in an attempt to stop him, and sustained multiple gunshot wounds, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. Cheng was pronounced dead at the scene.
During a news conference Monday, Sheriff Don Barnes called Cheng a “hero” for trying to protect others at the church.
“It is known that Dr. Cheng charged the individual, the suspect, attempted to disarm him, which allowed other parishioners to then intercede, taking the suspect into custody,” Barnes said.
“Without the actions of Dr. Cheng, it is no doubt there would be numerous additional victims in this crime,” Barnes added.
The suspect, David Chou, 68, was arrested and taken into custody on one count of murder and five counts of attempted murder.
In addition to his work as a physician, Cheng was an active member of the community, including volunteering with the local high school football team.
“Dr. Cheng was a caring, kind and humble man. He put the needs of others in front of his own,” Andrew Mashburn, the school’s athletic director, wrote in an email to NBC Asian America. “Giving up his Fridays in the fall to stand on the sidelines of our football games and assist with any injuries. Our trainer was able to refer many of our student athletes to his office where he would give them priority in help.”
He said Cheng also provided discounted yearly physicals for students and donated money to the school’s athletics programs.
“It doesn’t surprise me hearing of the situation — him doing what he did. His needs were always secondary to others, and that is what his heroic actions showed. Our hearts go out to his family, colleagues and loved ones. He will be missed greatly in our community and truly will be irreplaceable,” Mashburn said.
Colleagues also described him as a “humble, utmost giving man.”
“Dr. Cheng was a natural protector and healer,” said Johnna Gherardini, executive director at the South Coast Medical Group, where Cheng also worked. “It was characteristic of Dr. Cheng, to charge forward at the gunman. It does surprise any of us, that he was the hero! Dr. Cheng, exemplified, what he was built for. His heroism saved so many people not only at that church but throughout his career.”
Joe Cockrell, 46, a patient of Cheng’s, remembers him as being “very passionate” about youth fitness and sports and teaching kids healthy lifestyles and that he had a “kind and caring” bedside manner.
“My heart breaks for his family. I know his patients are going to miss him dearly. I can tell you that,” he said.
Others posted their condolences for Cheng online, including Johnny Stanton, a fullback for the Cleveland Browns who was a patient of Cheng’s.
Barnes on Monday called the shooting “a politically motived hate incident,” and said Chou, a U.S. citizen, “was upset about political tensions between China and Taiwan.”
Chou was initially identified by investigators as a Chinese immigrant, however, Taiwan’s Central News Agency has since reported that he was born in Taiwan.