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A year ago on May 15, nearly 50 congregants attending their Sunday service in a Laguna Woods church didn’t think the day would suddenly turn into horror when a man opened fire in the building that killed one and injured five in attendance.
Hundreds gathered at the location on May 14 marking the anniversary of the mass shooting and memorializing Dr. John Cheng, who was fatally wounded after apprehending, along with the congregation’s former pastor Rev. Billy Chang, the gunman.
“I would like to thank Dr. Cheng deeply for his sacrifice again,” said parishioner Jerry Cheng in Taiwanese at the beginning of Sunday’s commemoration. “If it weren’t for God’s mercy, Dr. Cheng’s sacrifice, and Pastor Chang’s brave act, I don’t think many of us would be here now.”
Chang said in a pre-recorded video from Taiwan that the incident had left heavy marks on his heart.
“When I think of this incident, on the one hand, I am very grateful and full of gratitude, but on the other hand, I often cry, feeling sad, heartbroken, and regretful … two of the emotions at the same time struck my heart,” he said.
He added that Cheng’s act of bravery made him more faithful to Christ and gave the word sacrifice a deeper meaning.
“Because of his sacrifice, I understand better what it means for us to say that the Lord Jesus Christ sacrificed his life for us and came to redeem us in faith. For those of us who are saved, it can be said that we receive such grace for nothing, but for those who paid the price for us, he gave his all, his life, Dr. Cheng gave his all, and we are here to honor him today,” he said.
The gunman charged in the shooting is David Chou, 69, of Las Vegas. He faces nearly 100 federal charges for killing Cheng and attempting to kill 44 others. He is also being prosecuted by the Orange County District Attorney, where he faces one count of murder and five counts of attempted murder.
Members of the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church—which rents space at the Laguna Woods Geneva Presbyterian Church—were enjoying a luncheon when Chou opened fire.
According to the authorities, prior to the incident, Chou had secured the church exits by super gluing and chaining them. Police additionally discovered Molotov cocktails and magazines of ammunition hidden behind a curtain in the banquet hall of the church.
According to authorities, the shooting was politically motivated regarding ongoing tensions between China and Taiwan.
“Chou allegedly acted because of the victims’ national origin and religion, and he intentionally obstructed the victims’ religious exercise,” the U.S. Attorney said in a press release earlier this month when announcing the charges.
However, the commemoration Sunday focused on Cheng’s brave act and sharing love and forgiveness.
“[Cheng’s] action didn’t come after careful consideration nor is it an impulsive act. It truly was because he had that great love and courage deep in his heart,” Cecilia Chueh, the president of the North America Taiwanese Women’s Association, told NTD Television, The Epoch Times’ sister media outlet, in Taiwanese. “That’s why he stepped out to stop such an injustice and dark things from getting worse.”
She also said as a mother, she felt deeply saddened for Cheng’s elderly mother who lost her son in the incident. Cheng was not a member of the congregation but had accompanied his mother, who is a member, to the church that day.
“The pain that this loss brought to her is unspeakable, and I can also feel her pain … Now, her son is not only her son. He is every Taiwanese’s treasure, and his heroic act will become a story of love that we treasure and pass on through generations,” she said.
Pastor Albany Lee of the church also told NTD that he hopes Chou can truly repent for his actions.
“We believe [he] must have things he is struggling with, but we won’t judge him or make any conclusion—we leave all of these in God’s hands,” he said. “We hope he can ultimately find peace in his heart, and we are not seeking any revenge.”
Josie Kuo of NTD Television contributed to this report.