LAGUNA WOODS, Calif. – A man opened fire during a lunch reception at a Southern California church on Sunday, killing one person and wounding five senior citizens before being stopped and hog-tied by parishioners in what a sheriff’s official called an act of “exceptional heroism and bravery.”
Four of the five people wounded suffered critical gunshot injuries during the violence at Geneva Presbyterian Church in the city of Laguna Woods, Orange County Sheriff’s Department officials said.
The suspect in the shooting, an Asian man in his 60s, was in custody and deputies recovered two handguns at the scene, Undersheriff Jeff Hallock said. A motive for the shooting wasn't immediately known but investigators don't believe the gunman lives in the community, he said.
The majority of those inside the church at the time were believed to be of Taiwanese descent, said Carrie Braun, a sheriff’s spokesperson.
Between 30 and 40 members of the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church were gathered for lunch after a morning church service at Geneva when gunfire erupted shortly before 1:30 p.m., officials said. When deputies arrived, parishioners had the gunman hog-tied and in custody.
“That group of churchgoers displayed what we believe is exceptional heroism and bravery in intervening to stop the suspect. They undoubtedly prevented additional injuries and fatalities,” Hallock said. “I think it’s safe to say that had people not intervened, it could have been much worse."
The wounded victims were four Asian men, who were 66, 75, 82 and 92 years old, and an 86-year-old Asian woman, the sheriff's department said. Authorities originally said only four of the five surviving victims had been shot.
Information about the person who was killed was not immediately released.
The investigation was in its early stages, Hallock said. He said the many unanswered questions include whether the assailant attended the church service, if he was known to church members and how many shots were fired.
The afternoon lunch reception was honoring a former pastor of the Taiwanese congregation, according to a statement from the Presbytery of Los Ranchos, a church administrative body.
“Please keep the leadership of the Taiwanese congregation and Geneva in your prayers as they care for the those traumatized by this shooting,” the presbytery’s Tom Cramer said in a statement on Facebook.
Federal agents from the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives responded. The FBI also sent agents to the scene to assist the sheriff.
Laguna Woods was built as a senior living community and later became a city. More than 80% of residents in the city of 18,000 people about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of Los Angeles are at least 65.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office said on Twitter that he was closely monitoring the situation.
“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," the tweet said.
The incident occurred in an area with a cluster of houses of worship, including Catholic, Lutheran and Methodist churches and a Jewish synagogue.
On its website, Geneva Presbyterian Church describes its mission as “to remember, tell, and live the way of Jesus by being just, kind, and humble.”
“All are welcome here. Really, we mean that! … Geneva aspires to be an inclusive congregation worshipping, learning, connecting, giving and serving together.”
The shooting came a day after an 18-year-old man shot and killed 10 people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.
“This is upsetting and disturbing news, especially less than a day after a mass shooting in Buffalo,” said U.S. Rep Katie Porter, whose district includes Laguna Woods. “This should not be our new normal. I will work hard to support the victims and their families.”
Weber reported from Los Angeles, along with Associated Press journalist Stefanie Dazio.