One dead, five critically wounded in shooting at church in Orange County

A sheriff's deputy ties crime scene tape in front of Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods on Sunday.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department says it detained a suspect and a weapon at a church shooting in Laguna Woods. The victims were described as mostly Asian and mostly of Taiwanese descent, authorities said.

One person was killed and five others were critically wounded Sunday during a shooting at a church in Laguna Woods.

The shooting occurred at 1:26 p.m. inside Geneva Presbyterian Church on the 24000 block of El Toro Road. The Sheriff’s Department said it detained a suspect and collected a weapon that might be involved.

A Taiwanese congregation was in the church at the time of the shooting, Undersheriff Jeff Hallock said. Authorities were interviewing more than 30 people who were inside the church at the time. The victims were described as mostly Asian and mostly of Taiwanese descent, authorities said.

A law enforcement source said officials believe the suspect was a 68-year-old Asian man who is originally from Las Vegas. The source said after he opened fire he was “subdued” by parishioners. No other details were available.

According to its website, the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church usually holds a 10 a.m. service at Geneva.

Tom Cramer, leader of Los Ranchos Presbytery, said that the shooting happened at a lunch reception honoring the former pastor of the Taiwanese church, who is returning to Taiwan to lead a congregation there. Cramer did not know if the pastor was harmed in the shooting.

“Churches are intended to be safe sanctuaries from hate and violence,” said Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer. “That serenity was shattered this afternoon by a gunman who unleashed unspeakable violence in a house of worship.”

Spitzer said his office is working with local and federal law enforcement partners “to ensure the person responsible is held accountable.” Homicide prosecutors were on the scene.

“As we mourn the tragic loss of life, we are thankful to the first responders who rushed in to save countless more lives,” Spitzer said.

The violence stunned residents in the suburban south Orange County community. Police closed off El Toro Road and emergency vehicles lined up in front of the church.

Patricia Wallace, 61, was inside her apartment when she heard the whirl of helicopters hovering above her complex across the street from the church. The Orange County native was shocked that the violence occurred in Laguna Woods, a quiet city that’s made up predominantly of senior residents.

“Things are just breaking down in society right now,” she said. “It’s just so sad.”

Randy Hall of Los Angeles was visiting a cousin in Orange County when they heard that a friend had attended services at Geneva just before gunshots were fired. Hall’s phone rang with word that churchgoers were making food baskets for the families of victims. Others were asking for donations and for the faithful to pray.

“We were heading for the beach,” Hall said as police helicopters circled overhead. “Now we’re heading to buy sympathy flowers.”

In the strip mall across the street from the church, coffee shop patrons walked to the street corner, hoping to find out more about the shooting from other locals. A teacher ordered foot-long sandwiches from Subway to bring to law enforcement at the taped-off scene. “In crisis, you form a temporary community,” said Anaheim resident Sandi Pine as she read a news story about the incident to other cafe patrons.

Cindy Frazier, 65, was running errands when she heard the overwhelming wail of police and fire engine sirens as they raced to Geneva Presbyterian Church.

“I thought it was the fire flaring back up but it was just one after the other,” the Laguna Woods resident said of the emergency response. “It’s just so heartbreaking. Why? Why our community?”

The Orange County Fire Authority said it was on the scene treating victims and taking patients to hospitals.

FBI agents are responding to assist the Orange County Sheriff’s Department at the shooting scene, officials said.

All victims were adults, the sheriff said. The motive was unclear.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.


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