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Congregation hogties shooter who opened fire in church, police say

A gunman killed one person and wounded five others at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, Calif. during a Taiwanese congregation’s lunch on May 15. (Video: Reuters)

LAGUNA WOODS, Calif. — A gunman killed one person and wounded five others at a church in Southern California on Sunday, authorities said, the second high-profile mass shooting to shake the country in just over 24 hours.

The attack happened during a lunch reception hosted by a Taiwanese congregation after a Sunday service at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, a small city in Orange County, church leaders and police said.

Authorities described the suspect as an Asian man in his 60s who does not live in the area. They took him into custody and said any potential motive in the shooting is unclear. Few details have surfaced about what happened inside the church, but first responders described a dramatic scene: After the shooter opened fire, police said, parishioners detained him, tied his legs with an extension cord and took his two handguns.

“By the time we arrived, the parishioners had the subject hogtied and in custody,” Orange County Undersheriff Jeff Hallock said at a news briefing Sunday afternoon.

Those who confronted the gunman displayed “exceptional heroism and bravery,” he said, adding that “it’s safe to say that had people not intervened, it could have been much worse.”

There were 30 to 40 people inside, Hallock said, and all six victims were adults. Officials said the investigation was still in its early stages.

The five people who were wounded — a 66-year-old man, 75-year-old man, 82-year-old man, 86-year-old woman and 92-year-old man — were all of Asian descent, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. Four suffered critical injuries in the shooting.

The sheriff’s office said Sunday night that it was withholding identification of the person who was killed until next of kin could be notified.

Officials said they would publicly identify the suspect once he was booked into the Orange County Jail.

Before it turned horrific, the occasion was celebratory — an event honoring the congregation’s former pastor, said Tom Cramer, head of the Presbytery of Los Ranchos, which includes Geneva Presbyterian.

“Please keep the leadership of the Taiwanese congregation and Geneva in your prayers as they care for those traumatized by this shooting,” Cramer said in a statement.

Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to the United States, Bi-khim Hsiao, said she was “shocked and saddened by the fatal shooting.”

“I join the families of the victims and Taiwanese American communities in grief and pray for the speedy recovery of the wounded survivors,” Hsiao said on Twitter.

News of the Laguna Woods shooting spread as the country was on edge, still mourning after a hate-fueled rampage in Buffalo killed 10 people at a grocery store in a mostly Black neighborhood Saturday and after an apparent altercation at a flea market in Houston escalated to gunfire in which two were killed earlier Sunday.

“This is upsetting and disturbing news, especially less than a day after a mass shooting in Buffalo,” Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), whose district includes the church, said on Twitter. “This should not be our new normal. I will work hard to support the victims and their families.”

Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said the communities are now united in grief.

“It’s a very dark day for the people of Laguna Woods and Orange County,” Bartlett said at the briefing. “Our thoughts and prayers are those with all those affected by this senseless tragedy.”

In an interview, she said her office has fielded calls from constituents who were stunned and scared after deadly violence in community hubs such as the church and a grocery store.

“People feel like they should be able to go to their congregation and church and be able to go to a place of worship and not have something like this happen,” Bartlett said.

Cynthia Conners, the mayor pro tem of Laguna Woods, is a member of the church and said she attended a service there that ended roughly 90 minutes before the shooting began.

“People are dead, people are injured,” Conners said. “A house of worship has been desecrated.”

“People do these things because they think it’s going to accomplish something,” she added. “But I don’t think it ever accomplishes” what they want.

Thebault reported from Washington. Amy B Wang in Washington contributed to this report.