Watch CBS News

Dr. John Cheng hailed as hero for charging gunman at Laguna Woods church shooting

Dr. John Cheng, who charged Laguna Woods church shooter, hailed as hero
Dr. John Cheng, who charged Laguna Woods church shooter, hailed as hero 02:57

The man who was killed in Sunday's shooting at Geneva Presbyterian Church was a highly-regarded sports physician who heroically tackled the gunman, allowing other parishioners to tackle and subdue him — but not before taking fatal gunfire himself.

"Literally the meeting of good versus evil, between Dr. Cheng and the suspect in this case," Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said.

Dr. John Cheng, 52, of Laguna Niguel, was the one fatality in what could have been an even more devastating mass shooting at the Laguna Woods church Sunday afternoon. In a news conference Monday, Barnes unequivocally called Cheng "a hero in this incident."

Church Shooting Press Conference
SANTA ANA, CA - MAY 16: The Orange County Sheriffs Department displayed a photo Dr. John Cheng who was killed in the shooting at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods during a press conference outside the Orange County Sheriffs Department in Santa Ana on Monday, May 16, 2022. Cheng was shot as he attempted to disarm the suspect. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images) MediaNews Group/Orange County Re

"Without the actions of Dr. Cheng, it is no doubt that there would be numerous additional victims in this crime," Barnes said.

Cheng charged the suspect, identified as 68-year-old David Chou of Las Vegas, and tackled him, and was subsequently hit by gunfire, Barnes said.

"I don't think that was a spontaneous act," he said. "I think he had thought this through in his mind, if something were to happen, 'what would I do?' And he acted on it. He saved the lives of probably upwards of dozens of people the way this individual was prepared."

Cheng was a physician specializing in sports medicine with the South Coast Medical Group. In a video featured prominently on the medical group's website, he says he came from a family of physicians and was inspired to do the same after seeing his father's work caring for a small Texas community. Cheng also served as a volunteer team physician for Aliso Niguel High School's football program, provided physical clearances for student athletes, and made generous donations to the school's program, the school said in a statement.

"Dr. Cheng was a great man, a proud father, husband and always genuine. He always had a smile on his face," the statement said. "Hearing the news of his death is devastating as he just performed our annual athletic physicals last week. He is gone too soon and we will miss him dearly."

He was reportedly not a regular church attendee, but was accompanying his elderly mother to attend the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, which was using the facility for their services and luncheon.

"Evil was in that church yesterday," Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said. Spitzer described a church luncheon that had been violently disrupted, with tables and containers of popcorn overturned, and a walker that had been abandoned.

Cheng had been one of the youngest congregants at the church on Sunday, and Spitzer said the doctor took it upon himself to charge across the room and do everything he could to disable the gunman.

"He sacrificed himself so that others could live," Spitzer said. "That irony in a church is not lost on me."

Cheng leaves behind a wife and two children.

EMERGENCY COMPONENT - LOCAL

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.