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Texas native hailed as hero after being killed while tackling gunman at church in California

Marshall ISD announced 1987 graduate Dr. John Cheng died in the shooting at Geneva Presbyterian Church, which hosted a Taiwanese congregation, in Orange County, CA.

ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. — An East Texas native is being hailed as a hero after witnesses say he was killed while tackling a gunman who opened fire at a church in California.

Marshall ISD announced 1987 graduate Dr. John Cheng died in the shooting at Geneva Presbyterian Church, which hosted a Taiwanese congregation, in Orange County, CA. Five others were injured.

“I’m just one of many, many, hundreds, thousands of friends that he had," high school friend Sam Hammontree said. "John was quite a friend and I’m sure that they would all say the same thing about him.”

A Marshall High School yearbook from 1987 shows Dr. Cheng was voted "Most Likely to Succeed" by his classmates.

Credit: Marshall ISD's 1987 Yearbook

 “We voted him 'Most Likely to Succeed,' Hammontree said. "And I would say that he far succeeded anything that we could have done by sacrificing his life for so many others.”

Dr. Cheng also attended Baylor University (class of 1991). The university stated he was killed after "literally taking the bullet for fellow congregants while heroically tackling the gunman at an Orange County church."

"We were always looking forward to that next time," said Baylor fraternity brother James Runnels. "He wanted to bring his kids back to Caddo Lake and see Marshall, Texas, where he grew up. He loved this place.”

Officials say the suspect, identified as David Wenwei Chou, 68, of Las Vegas, was a Chinese immigrant motivated by hate due to political tensions between China and Taiwan. They categorized he crime as a "politically motivated hate incident."

"Dr. Cheng is a hero in this incident," Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said. "Without the actions of Dr. Cheng, there is no doubt there would be additional victims in this crime."

According to CBS 8, two semi-automatic handguns were taken from the attacker. Federal officials said Monday that Chou legally purchased the weapons in Las Vegas, one in 2015 and the other in 2017.

“He’s a hero. And that says a lot about success," Runnels said. "He’s like the guy during the war that falls on the grenade to save his buddies. That’s who John was.”

A prayer vigil will be held in remembrance of Dr. Cheng Friday, May 27 at 7 p.m. at the Harrison County Courthouse. The public is welcome to attend.

Dr. Cheng is survived by his wife and two children.

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