Cleveland Browns fullback Johnny Stanton is remembering his former doctor, Dr. John Cheng, as a hero. Cheng was killed on Sunday while tackling and attempting to disarm a gunman who opened fire on a Laguna Woods church, authorities said.
"I wanted people to know doctor, Dr. John Cheng's name. And it feels weird like it coming back to me, like I have no intention of, you know, this attention being on me. I want it all to be on Dr. Cheng because, you know, just this one act that he made on Sunday saved so many lives and just demonstrates how great of a person he was," Stanton told FOX 11's Phil Shuman.
Authorities credited Cheng's heroic actions for saving the lives of countless others by sacrificing himself "so that others could live."
Officials said David Wenwei Chou, 68, of Las Vegas, opened fire during a lunch reception at Geneva Presbyterian Church on Sunday, fatally shooting Cheng and injuring five others, including four who were taken to the hospital for treatment of gunshot injuries.
Chou, who authorities say was motivated by a grievance against the Taiwanese community over tensions with China, was charged Tuesday with capital murder and nine other felonies. The murder charge includes a special circumstance allegation of lying in wait, which opens Chou to a possible death sentence or, in the alternative, life in prison without the possibility of parole. Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer noted that Chou "did everything he could to fit in" as he mingled with parishioners before pulling out a pair of semi-automatic handguns and firing into the crowd during a post-services luncheon to honor a visiting pastor.
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"This case is about a person concealing themselves in plain view," Spitzer said.
The murder charge also includes a sentencing enhancement of personal use of a firearm. Spitzer said "these are very, very serious charges," so his office will conduct a thorough review of the case before deciding whether to seek the death penalty.
Chou was also charged with five counts of attempted murder for the other parishioners who were injured in the shooting, with sentencing enhancements for premeditation and deliberation, which also open him up to life sentences. He was also charged with four felony counts of possession of an explosive device. Sheriff's officials said Chou was carrying a incendiary devices similar to Molotov cocktails.
Spitzer said earlier he believes that Chou intended to kill everyone inside the church, then burn the building to the ground.
Investigators suspect Chou drove from Las Vegas and arrived in Southern California on Saturday before going to the church sometime Sunday morning. He is accused of walking into the church during the luncheon by the Taiwanese congregation, barricading multiple doors so those inside could not escape, then initially mingling with parishioners before opening fire.
Chou allegedly chained some doors, tried to nail one shut and put super glue in the locks of others, all while the congregants were eating lunch, Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said. In addition to the incendiary devices, Chou was also carrying additional ammunition, the sheriff said.
Barnes said Cheng, 52, a physician with South Bay Medical Group in Aliso Viejo, was "a hero in this incident," hailing him for rushing the gunman, essentially sacrificing his life while buying time for other parishioners to descend on the suspect. The pastor struck the gunman with a chair, and other parishioners held him down and hog-tied him with electrical cords, authorities said.
Without the actions of Dr. Cheng, there is no doubt there would be additional victims in this crime," Barnes said.
Spitzer said it appears that after Chou shot Cheng, his gun jammed, giving congregants more time to subdue the suspect.
Barnes said investigators have determined the shooting was an isolated incident carried out solely by Chou, and the shooting was a "politically motivated hate incident." Barnes said the suspect "was upset about political tensions between China and Taiwan."
Sheriff's officials initially said Chou was born in China and his family moved to Taiwan, but on Tuesday investigators determined he was born and raised in Taiwan and that over the years he developed a "grievance" against the Taiwanese community as tensions between the two countries heightened, sheriff's spokeswoman Carrie Braun said.
Investigators found a note in Chou's car in the church parking lot that indicated his animosity toward Taiwan. Spitzer said earlier it appeared that Chou's family was forced to move from China to Taiwan and that Chou complained he was treated poorly as an outsider over the years. Investigators have multiple translators going over the note to interpret it correctly, Spitzer said.
Investigators were still working to determine why Chou, who was a licensed security guard in Nevada, chose the Orange County congregation to target, since he had no known ties to anyone connected with it. Barnes said there is no similar congregation in Las Vegas and the one in Orange County may have been the closest one for the suspect.
Federal officials said Monday that Chou legally purchased his two weapons in Las Vegas, one in 2015 and the other in 2017. Barnes said the magazines the gunman brought with him in one of two bags were legally obtained in Nevada.
In addition to the state charges, the FBI has also opened a hate crime investigation, meaning he could potentially face federal counts.
Spitzer said he wants to work collaboratively with federal investigators, and his office could file further hate crime charges without affecting any federal complaint. But Spitzer said he wanted to see more evidence before making a decision on hate crime charges.
CNS contributed to this report.