Laguna Beach faithful pray for church shooting victims, families

Senior Pastor Jerry Tankersley preaches in the Laguna Presbyterian Church sanctuary in 2018.
Photo by Mitch Ridder.

Laguna Beach congregations are praying for the victims of a shooting at a Laguna Woods Church that killed a doctor and injured five other parishioners.

Dr. John Cheng, 52, of Aliso Viejo-based South Coast Medical Group was identified as the deceased on Monday. Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes called Cheng a hero for attempting to subdue the shooter. Five other members of the Taiwanese Presbyterian Church were also injured and several were in critical condition.

Rev. Steve Sweet, senior pastor for Laguna Presbyterian Church, wrote to his congregation to be ardent in prayer for the victims and their families. Geneva Presbyterian Church and Laguna Presbyterian Church are both part of the 44-church Los Ranchos Presbytery that spans Greater Los Angeles.

“Our presbytery is providing tremendous support and care for both the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church and Geneva Presbyterian Church, their congregations and pastors. Several Laguna Beach worshipping communities have reached out with both concern and prayer. What an incredible city, for which we are so thankful,” Sweet said in a statement.

Sweet specifically asked for his parishioners to keep the leadership of the Taiwanese congregation in their prayers, along with that of Geneva Presbyterian Church, as they care for those traumatized by Sunday’s shooting.

“During a crisis such as this, we hold on to the hope and strength we have in Christ,” Sweet wrote.

Laguna Beach police Sgt. Jason Farris led safety and awareness training for Laguna Presbyterian Church staff on Wednesday, according to a post on the Church’s Instagram page.

Rev. Lester Mackenzie of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church posted a prayer on Facebook shortly after the shooting. His heart is breaking over the shootings in Buffalo and Laguna Woods.

“I grew up in South Africa during apartheid and I truly believe in the words of Desmond Tutu that good is stronger the evil, love is stronger than hate, light is stronger than darkness, and life is stronger than death,” Mackenzie said in a phone interview. “Amidst all of this the whole community can focus its intention collectively toward love and hope.”

St. Mary’s leadership has asked the Orange County Sheriff’s Department to conduct a site security assessment of its Laguna Beach campus later this week, Mackenzie said. A Laguna Beach police representative is also slated to join deputy sheriffs during the visit.

Authorities identified the shooter Monday as a 68-year-old Las Vegas man. The shooter is in custody at Orange County Jail on a $1 million bail, according to jail records. He’s scheduled to appear in Central Jail Court on Tuesday.

Investigators believe the evidence they collected indicates the attack may have been motivated by the shooter’s grievances over “political tensions between China and Taiwan.”

The Laguna Beach Police Department took precautions Monday to ensure public safety following the Laguna Woods shooting.

“Laguna Beach Police is increasing patrols around churches, schools, grocery stores, and other areas that are heavily populated,” Sgt. Cornelius Ashton, a Laguna Beach police spokesperson, wrote in an email. “Our mission is to increase safety through having a strong presence, and reduce any fear caused by the recent violent incidents that have occurred both locally and across our country.”

The story is developing and will be updated as necessary.

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  1. This is truly heart wrenching. Again, senseless violence from a weapon in the hands of a depraved person. The loss of this generous, loving physician is overwhelming. I truly surround his wife and children, as well as his recently widowed mother who has now seen her son murdered, with love, light and prayers. Tragic.


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