Officials noted that as many as 40 people who belong to a Taiwanese church were at the facility when the incident occurred. Undersheriff Jeff Hallock told NBC News that congregants also confiscated at least two handguns, that deputies later seized.
"They [congregants] undoubtedly prevented additional injuries and fatalities," Hallock said. "It appears that one or more of the congregants did act quite heroically."
Hallock added that the suspect’s Asian identity was shared with the public in order to allay fears of another possible hate crime. The motive for the attack is not known at this time. As of this report, investigators also still investigating where the man resides and if he has any relationship with the congregation or the facility.
The incident occurred at the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, a city known to house many retired individuals.
Tom Cramer, a co-executive at a network of Orange County Presbyterian churches, the Presbytery of Los Ranchos, said the violence took place during a luncheon honoring a former pastor of the Taiwanese congregation.
The organization "is deeply saddened by a fatal shooting that occurred at a lunch reception,” Tom Cramer, a co-executive at a network of Orange County Presbyterian churches, the Presbytery of Los Ranchos, said in a statement. "Please keep the leadership of the Taiwanese congregation and Geneva in your prayers as they care for those traumatized by this shooting.”
Witnesses said they heard gunshots shortly after lunch while some were taking photos with the returning pastor.
“I heard the gun sounds,” said Jerry Chen, the Los Angeles Times reported. “Then I heard two or three more gunshots. He was just randomly shooting. I saw some people fall down or go under the table. I knew something was wrong. I called 911.”
Another member of the community told the outlet that the pastor hit the gunman with a chair before others grabbed him. Chen added that members had even welcomed and greeted the suspect when they initially saw him. He allegedly claimed he had attended services several times, although none of the members recognized him, Chen said.
The incident follows another shooting targeting the Asian community, which occurred last week. Regarding that incident in Dallas, police officials shared Friday they were still looking for the suspect, who might be involved in a series of shootings targeting members of the AAPI community.
It’s not surprising to hear many associated the incident with anti-Asian hate crimes prior to knowing the suspect himself was Asian. Studies have not only found that violence has increased by 339% in 2021 compared to the previous year, but that Asian Americans are changing their daily routines out of fear of violence.
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