The gunman who killed one and injured five others in a California church Sunday was tackled by a hero retired pastor — then ambushed by elderly parishioners, who hogtied his legs and wrangled away his two handguns, officials said.
The gunman — so far only identified as an Asian man in his 60s — burst into Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods during a luncheon honoring its former longtime Pastor Billy Chang.
When the killer paused to reload, Pastor Chang hit him on the head with a chair while others moved quickly to grab his gun. They then subdued him and hogtied his legs with extension cords, officials said.
“That group of churchgoers displayed what we believe is exceptional heroism and bravery in intervening to stop the suspect,” Orange County Undersheriff Jeff Hallock said.
“They undoubtedly prevented additional injuries and fatalities,” he said.
“I think it’s safe to say that had people not intervened, it could have been much worse.”
The lone fatal victim, described only as a man, died inside the church, officials said.
No motive has been released for the attack. The gunman is not thought to be from the local community and it was not immediately clear if he had ties to the church, the undersheriff said.
“At this time, we do not know what the suspect’s motive may be or whether he had an intended target, or whether this is even a hate-related incident,” Hallock said.
The five wounded were four Asian men, ages 66, 75, 82 and 92, and an 86-year-old Asian woman, officials said. Four of them were listed as being in critical condition with gunshot wounds.
Witness Jerry Chen — one of those who called 911 — said there were around 40 people in the church at the time for the luncheon welcoming back Chang, who had served the church for 20 years before moving back to Taiwan two years ago. This was his first time back stateside, Chen said.
“We’re mostly retirees and the average age of our church is 80,” Chen said, saying most were Taiwanese immigrants.
“It was amazing how brave (Chang) and the others were,” he said. “This is just so sad. I never, ever thought something like this would happen in my church, in my community.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom said that “no one should have to fear going to their place of worship.”
“Our thoughts are with the victims, community, and all those impacted by this tragic event,” his office said on Twitter.
It was at least the second mass shooting of the weekend after 10 people were killed in a despicable race-hate attack in a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, Saturday.
It was also just the latest mass shooting in a US church, with the deadliest in 2017 when a gunman killed more than two dozen people during a Sunday service at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
In 2015, Dylann Roof fired dozens of bullets during the closing prayer of a 2015 Bible study session at Charleston’s Mother Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina. Nine members of the Black congregation were killed in the racist violence and Roof became the first person in the U.S. sentenced to death for a federal hate crime. His appeal remains before the Supreme Court.