ALISO VIEJO, California – Everyone knew him as just Dr. John, a quiet, calm doctor who taught children kung fu, finding time between patient visits to encourage people to learn self-defense. So it was no surprise to friends and colleagues that John Cheng spent his last minutes rescuing others by attacking an armed man who opened fire on a Southern California church where mostly elderly Taiwanese, including Cheng’s newly widowed mother.
The 52-year-old father of two was known for doing his best to protect people. He was so concerned about the growing number of mass shootings that he took security courses to prepare for a situation similar to the one that cost him his life on Sunday.
“It was typical for Dr. Chen to attack this gunman,” said Erica Triplet, Cheng’s office manager. “It doesn’t surprise any of us. Dr. Cheng showed what he was built for – his heroism, which saved so many people not only in this church, but throughout his career.
The family and sports medicine doctor was like a family for the staff, and he encouraged them to learn kung fu, believing that it is important for people to know self-defense, his friends and colleagues said. For the same reason, he also learned to handle weapons.
According to active experts on shooters, this preparedness, combined with Chen’s calm disposition, probably gave him a penchant for heroic action. Most people die in such situations.
“People don’t rise to the level of an event; they are falling to the level of training they have, ”said Chris Grohlnek, an active shooting expert who believes that such training should be as common as fire drills. “This man, obviously as a doctor, was vaccinated (to fight) against bad things: from a bone sticking out of someone’s hand, to a tragic event similar to what happened at a church in Orange County.”
Authorities attribute Chen’s swift action to saving perhaps dozens of lives at a holiday dinner for the faithful and their former pastor at Taiwan’s Irwin Presbyterian Church, which holds services at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Orange County’s Laguna Woods community.
Prosecutors say the gunman, 68-year-old David Zhou of Las Vegas, was motivated by hatred for Taiwan, where he was born and raised after his family was expelled from mainland China when the Communists took control. Authorities said he had no connection to the church, but this gave him access to a larger group of Taiwanese.
Authorities said Zhou spent about an hour with dinner participants, apparently to win their trust so he could carry out his plan. He shot at doors and glued locks. He had two 9-mm pistols and three bags containing four Molotov cocktails and ammunition.
When Zhou started firing, Chen rushed at him and was shot. He died at the scene, but his quick action tore down a shooter who was knocked down by a chair thrown by former church pastor Billy Chang, and jumped on three members of the congregation who used an extension cord to tie him to police. arrived.
Cheng was the only one killed. Five more were injured, including four men aged 66 to 92 and an 86-year-old woman. All were either discharged from the hospital or in stable condition.
Sheriff Don Barnes called Cheng’s heroism a “meeting of good and evil.”
“Doctor. Chen’s selfless love for others has prevented the hateful act from taking more lives than his own, ”Barnes tweeted.
Those who knew Cheng said that self-sacrifice determined his life.
He began his practice by knocking on doors to greet and introduce himself as the new family doctor in the area, said Johnna Gerardini, executive director of the South Coast Medical Group. Cheng passed the survey to student-athletes and then donated the money he was paid to Alice Nigel High School.
Gerardini took kung fu with his daughter at Cheng’s insistence.
“He always taught us how to protect ourselves,” she said.
Patients remembered him as a concerned listener. “He was incredibly kind,” said a note left by a patient glued to the door of his office, where people left flowers to pay their respects.
In a video posted online, Cheng said he was inspired to pursue medicine after seeing the help his father provided as a doctor to their small community in East Texas, where the family moved from Taiwan when Chen was a child.
“It was the values of small towns that instilled in me when I was younger that really helped create that sense of community,” said Cheng, a graduate of Texas Medical University and a residency in California. “And in this modern society, in these modern times, we lack a lot.”
He called the patient-doctor relationship special, “so you learn a lot about the patient, his family, the community in which they live. And it’s great that I live in the same community. “
Cheng’s pastor and close friend, Ira Angustein, took classes with him to learn how to handle weapons safely and protect the people they love.
“We talked about how people lost their minds and shot people for no reason,” said Angustein, pastor of the Church of the Covenant of the Kingdom in the nearby Lake Forest community. “He didn’t want to feel helpless. He wanted to make sure people were safe. “
On Sunday morning, Cheng sent a message to Angusten to announce that he would not come to the service because he was taking his mother to her church.
She stopped walking after her husband died a couple of months ago, still grieving his death. But Chang, a former church pastor and her close friend, wrote her condolences and said she was coming from Taiwan. The church invited her to the service and dinner to him.
Cheng volunteered to pick up his mother, but in a gruesome twist of fate, instead of the walk giving her peace of mind, she eventually witnessed his death that day.
“My heart aches,” the visiting pastor wrote in a statement.
Shortly before the execution, Angustein responded to Chen’s text, saying the congregation would miss him, and told him to say goodbye to his mother.
“You are such a good son,” wrote Angustein Cheng.
“I can always be better,” Chen replied.
Less than 15 minutes later, Cheng, without hesitation, threw an armed man.
“Evil did not bring Dr. John out,” Angustein said. “Doctor. John decided to give his life for others so they could live. ”
Watson reported from San Diego. Associated Press writer Stephanie Dazio of Los Angeles and news researcher Ronda Schaffner of New York contributed to the report.
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