May 17, 2022

Dr. John Cheng: The Hero of Laguna Woods

When confronted with the ultimate fight-or-flight moment, a brave American man chose the former.

If you’re like this author, an American man somewhere within the wide parameters of fighting age, you’ve replayed in your head more than once a scenario like the one that visited Dr. John Cheng this weekend.

You’ve replayed it at the store, and at the restaurant, and at the theater, and in church, and you’ve planned a course of action, and you’ve prayed that you never have to execute that plan.

On Sunday, at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, California, an armed 68-year-old man chained the doors and put super glue in the keyholes. In addition to two handguns, the assailant had three bags that held four Molotov cocktails and extra ammo. He didn’t know anyone at the church, but he spent about an hour there before his rampage, mixing with some 40 other congregants at an after-service meal before opening fire on them.

Amid the chaos, one man, John Cheng, 52, a husband and father of two, made a selfless, split-second decision that cost him his life but without question saved countless others. Rather than flee or seek cover, Cheng charged the attacker, hitting him on the head with a chair and tackling him, thereby buying the precious seconds needed for other parishioners, most of them elderly and Taiwanese, to join in and subdue the assailant, ultimately tying him up with extension cords until police arrived.

Cheng died and five others were wounded: four men ages 66, 92, 82, and 75, and an 86-year-old woman, none of whom have been identified. As the AP reports, Sheriff Don Barnes called Cheng’s heroism “a meeting of good versus evil” that probably saved the lives “of upwards of dozens of people.”

Those who knew the good doctor probably weren’t surprised at all. As the Los Angeles Times reports:

Dr. John Cheng was known for always putting others first. The Orange County sports medicine physician answered text messages from patients on the weekends. He was a good listener who spent time during appointments learning about patients’ lives and families. And he gave his time and money to high school athletic programs, serving as a team doctor for teenage athletes. … Cheng was raised in rural east Texas and said he was inspired by his father, a small-town physician who embraced his community and whose community embraced him.“

This, of course, was a hate crime, just like every other intentional shooting. In this case, the murderer was motivated by political hatred against Taiwan and its people, which was documented in handwritten notes found by authorities. Apparently, his family was forcibly moved from mainland China to Taiwan sometime around or after the Chinese Communist takeover of mainland China in 1949. There, tensions grew between native Taiwanese and mainland immigrants who were often relegated to slums and military communities.

There was no hatred in Dr. Cheng, though. On Monday, Johnna Gherardini, executive director of the South Coast Medical Group where Cheng worked, greeted tearful patients in his office. "Many people will say he was at the wrong place at the wrong time, but I don’t believe so,” Gherardini said. “He was at the right place. He has always been giving. … He was a protector.”

Indeed, John Cheng was challenged on Sunday, and he answered by demonstrating that greatest form of Christian love: the willingness to lay down one’s life for one’s brothers and sisters.

Today, President Joe Biden is visiting Buffalo, New York, the site of another hate-filled and deadly assault over the weekend. But in skipping a visit to Laguna Woods, Biden will be missing out on an opportunity to celebrate the life of Dr. John Cheng, and an opportunity to reflect on the abundant goodness and greatness of America, rather than its isolated wickedness.


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