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Baylor University remembers Dr. John Cheng who saved lives as shooter attacked California church

Geneva Presbyterian Church
A police yellow tape is seen after a shooting inside Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, California, on May 15, 2022. - One person was dead and four people were "critically" injured in a shooting at a church near Los Angeles, law enforcement said Sunday, just one day after a gunman killed 10 people at a grocery store in New York state. |

Baylor University alumnus Dr. John Cheng, a 52-year-old sports physician who died last Sunday as he jumped into action to save lives when a gunman opened fire at an Orange County church, is being remembered by his former classmates as a black belt in kung fu and “a rock star making Christ more famous one person at a time.”

“Basically, he laid down his life for his friends. He was just a solid, Christian doctor,” says  James Runnels, who was a Kappa Omega Tau fraternity brother with Dr. Cheng at Baylor University, in a blogpost on the BaylorProud website remembering the shooting victim.

“And on our fraternity Facebook page, alumni, many of the guys said it didn’t surprise them at all that he gave his life protecting others. That’s just the kind of person he was. He always put others [ahead of] himself, and lived his life like Jesus did — sacrificing for others,” Runnels added.

Cheng was among the roughly 40 congregants of the Taiwanese Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, Orange County, who had finished their lunch after the worship service when David Chou, a 68-year-old Chinese immigrant from Las Vegas, Nevada, shot church members. Cheng was shot when he charged at the gunman and tried to disarm him.

Cheng, father of two, “had a heart for the Lord in a way that not any other man that I ever met did, and from a young age,” said his former classmate Heidy McWhorter. “He was indeed [a] light to the very end — to professional athletes as their official doctor, his community, his medical practice patients, his martial arts academy clients, his church family and friends. John was a rock star making Christ more famous one person at a time with every genuine, loving, caring and kind interaction he had with each person God brought in his path.”

Baylor history professor Stephen Sloan said “the Lord could have been preparing him for this, because of the training and hours he has put into self-defense and the artistry in which he pursued that. It all came together on that one day, and he was able to use it to protect others.”

Cheng was also a 1995 graduate of Texas Tech University School of Medicine, which said the institution is “deeply saddened” to learn of his death.

“Dr. Cheng’s heroic acts … reflected his lifelong dedication to service,” it said in a statement to news station KSLA. In a moment of crisis, he placed the lives of his neighbors before himself — and by every account, that act of selflessness and courage, which cost him his life, saved the lives of many others. It was heroism in its purest form.

Cheng gave physicals to student-athletes and then donated the money he was paid to Aliso Niguel High School, according to The Associated Press.

Don Barnes, Orange County Sheriff-Coroner, said earlier that the “tragic incident was fueled by politically motivated hate,” which “is something we do not tolerate.”

“Orange County is a community that celebrates diversity and takes pride in being a place people feel safe to worship, work and live,” stated Barnes. “While someone from outside our community has attempted to diminish these ideals through an act of violence, we remain united in our commitment to tolerance and acceptance.”

According to Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer, sometimes after 1948, the suspect's family was forcibly moved from China to live in Taiwan, where he purportedly felt he was mistreated, NPR reported. 

After the suspected shooter was detained, police found two 9 mm semiautomatic pistols that were legally purchased in Las Vegas, as well as incendiary devices and notes written in Chinese in which the suspect stated his opposition to Taiwan being an independent country.

Modern-day Taiwan traces its origins to the Chinese Civil War when nationalist forces under Chiang Kai-shek established a government on the Taiwanese island in 1949.

The Communist Chinese government does not recognize the independence of Taiwan and has demanded that other nations, including the United States, do the same.

A 2018 fact sheet by the U.S. State Department states that while the U.S. and Taiwan “enjoy a robust unofficial relationship,” the U.S. “does not support Taiwan independence.”

“The United States insists on the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait differences, opposes unilateral changes to the status quo by either side, and encourages both sides to continue their constructive dialogue on the basis of dignity and respect,” explained the fact sheet.

“The United States has maintained and enhanced its commercial ties with Taiwan since 1979. Taiwan is the United States’ ninth-largest trading partner, and the United States is Taiwan’s second-largest trading partner.”

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