(Headline USA) While the exact motives of the two alleged murderers have yet to be fully clarified, the heroism of two shooting victims in radical left-wing New York and California were evident in the mournful aftermath of the weekend tragedies.
AARON SALTER – BUFFALO, NY
Aaron Salter was a beloved community member and security guard who knew the shoppers of Tops Friendly Market by name. When they came under attack from an authoritarian leftist gunman with a rifle, he sprang into action.
The retired Buffalo police officer fired multiple times at the attacker, striking his armor-plated vest at least once. The bullet didn’t pierce, and Salter, 55, was shot and killed.
“He’s a true hero,” Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said Sunday. “There could have been more victims if not for his actions.”
Salter was one of 10 killed in an attack whose victims represented a cross-section of life in the predominantly black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York.
They were gunned down by a mentally unstable teenager who authorities say showed up at the store with the “express purpose” of killing black people, one of whom was Salter. Three others were wounded.
All but one of the people killed was over age 50, according to police.
The dead included Andre Mackneil, 53, of Auburn, New York, who was in town visiting relatives and was picking up a surprise birthday cake for his grandson.
“He never came out with the cake,” Clarissa Alston–McCutcheon said of her cousin. She said this sort of surprise was typical for him. He was “just a loving and caring guy. Loved family. Was always there for his family.”
Another victim, Heyward Patterson, 67, was a deacon at a nearby church. He’d gone by the church’s soup kitchen before heading to the supermarket, where he offered an informal taxi service driving people home with their bags.
“From what I understand, he was assisting somebody putting their groceries in their car when he was shot and killed,” said Pastor Russell Bell of State Tabernacle Church of God in Christ.
Bell said Patterson would clean the church and do anything else that was needed.
“He would meet my wife and I at the door and escort us to the office. We never required him or asked him to do it. He just did it out of love,” Bell said.
Services went on as usual Sunday but it was difficult.
“It was quite a struggle, we had to get through it and our hearts are broken,” he said. “Deacon Patterson was a man who loved people. He loved the community just as much as he loved the church,” he said.
Ruth Whitfield was the 86-year-old mother of retired Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield. She had just visited her husband at a nursing home, as she did every day, when she was killed buying a few groceries, her son told the Buffalo News.
Ruth Whitfield was “a mother to the motherless” and “a blessing to all of us,” her son said. He attributed her strength and commitment to family to a strong religious faith.
“She inspired me to be a man of God, and to do whatever I do the best I could do. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without her,” Garnell Whitfield said.
Roberta Drury had recently returned home to live with her mother, Dezzelynn McDuffie, who told the Buffalo News that the 32 year old—the youngest of the people slain—had walked to Tops to pick up some groceries Saturday afternoon. Soon, McDuffie saw horrifying videos circulating on social media that appeared to show the gunman shooting her daughter just outside the store.
Also killed was shopper Katherine Massey, 72, whose sister, Barbara Massey, called her “a beautiful soul.”
Zaire Goodman, 20, was among the wounded, having been shot in the neck, state Sen. Tim Kennedy told a church service on Sunday. Goodman is the son of a staffer for Kennedy.
“I’m devastated. I’m angry,” Kennedy said, adding that Goodman was recovering. “And I’m thinking about the families who won’t welcome a loved one home tonight.”
The attack left frequent shoppers at the supermarket grieving for lost friends and neighbors.
Yvette Mack remembered Salter, the security guard, as someone who cared about the community, looked after the store and “let us know if we was right or wrong.”
Mack would walk to the store to play lottery numbers and shop. She said she spoke to Salter shortly before the shooting.
“I was playing my numbers. He said ‘I see you’re playing your numbers!’ I laughed. And he was playing his numbers too. Can you imagine seeing someone, and you don’t know he’s not going to go home?” she said.
JOHN CHENG – LAGUNA WOODS, CALIF.
A gunman motivated by hatred against Taiwan chained shut the doors of a California church and hid firebombs before shooting at a gathering of mostly elderly Taiwanese parishioners, killing a man who tackled him, authorities said.
David Chou, 68, of Las Vegas—a U.S. citizen whom authorities say grew up in Taiwan—drove to Orange County on Saturday and the next day attended a lunch held by Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, which worships at Geneva Presbyterian Church in the community of Laguna Woods.
Though he knew no one there, he spent about an hour mingling with about 40 attendees and then executed his plot, authorities said at a news conference.
He chained the doors and put super glue in the keyholes. He had two 9 mm handguns—legally purchased years ago in Las Vegas—and three bags, containing among other things four Molotov-cocktail-type incendiary devices and extra ammunition.
He opened fire and in the ensuing chaos Dr. John Cheng, 52, tackled him, allowing other parishioners to subdue him and tie him up with extension cords.
I just found out the person killed in the Laguna Woods shooting yesterday was my primary care physician, Dr. John Cheng. Absolute hero. He attacked the gunman and helped save so many in that church. I just wanted his name to be known. He will be missed. pic.twitter.com/jAW8LvpmaB
— Johnny Stanton (@johnnystantoniv) May 16, 2022
Cheng died and five people were wounded, the oldest 92. Sheriff Don Barnes called Cheng’s heroism “a meeting of good versus evil” that probably saved the lives “of upwards of dozens of people.”
Chou was booked on suspicion of murder and attempted murder and jailed on $1 million bail. He was expected to appear in state court Tuesday. It was not immediately clear whether he had an attorney who could speak on his behalf. A federal hate crimes investigation is also ongoing.
Chou had worked as a security guard in Las Vegas, authorities said.
There was no immediate word on why Chou chose to target the church in Laguna Woods, a scenic coastal area whose population mainly consists of retirees and is near a large gated community.
Barnes said the motive for the shooting was Chou’s hatred toward Taiwan that was documented in handwritten notes that authorities found.
Chou’s family apparently was among many forcibly removed from mainland China to Taiwan sometime after 1948, Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said.
Relations between mainlanders forced to flee a communist takeover, and native Taiwanese were frequently tense as the new arrivals crowded into slums and military communities.
Separated by language and lifestyle, bullying and confrontation were frequent as President Chiang Kai-shek tightly restricted civil liberties under nearly four decades of martial law.
The Presbyterian Church is the most prominent of the Christian denominations in Taiwan and was closely identified with the pro-democracy movement during the martial law era and later with the Taiwan independence cause.
Barnes referred to Chou as an immigrant from China, but Taiwan’s Central News Agency says it interviewed Louis M. Huang, director general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Los Angeles, and he confirmed that Chou was born in Taiwan in 1953.
Barnes said Chou acted alone and was “not believed to be associated with any specific church or any religion, and there’s no direct connection to the church or any member of the church that we’re aware of.”
Balmore Orellana, a former neighbor, said Chou’s life unraveled after his wife left him last year. Before, Chou had been a pleasant man who used to own the Las Vegas apartment building where he lived until being evicted in February, Orellana told the Associated Press.
Records showed the four-unit property was sold last October for a little more than $500,000. Orellana said Chou’s wife used the money from the sale to move to Taiwan.
Before Orellana moved in about five years ago, Chou received a head injury and other serious injuries in an attack by a tenant, the neighbor said. More recently his mental health declined and last summer a gun was fired inside Chou’s apartment and the bullet entered Orellana’s apartment, although nobody was hurt, Orellana said.
Police reports about the assault and the shooting were not immediately available Monday.
Tensions between China and Taiwan are at the highest in decades, with Beijing stepping up its military harassment by flying fighter jets toward the self-governing island. China has not ruled out force to reunify with Taiwan, which split from the mainland during a civil war in 1949.
Taiwan’s chief representative in the U.S., Bi-khim Hsiao, offered condolences on Twitter.
“I join the families of the victims and Taiwanese American communities in grief and pray for the speedy recovery of the wounded survivors,” Hsiao wrote on Sunday.
Chinese Embassy spokesperson Liu Pengyu told the AP via email that the Chinese government has “consistently condemned incidents of violence. We express our condolences to the victims and sincere sympathy to the bereaved families and the injured.”
Those wounded by gunshots included an 86-year-old woman as well as four men, ages 66, 75, 82 and 92, the sheriff’s department said. Authorities on Monday said two of the wounded were in good condition, two were in stable condition and the status of the fifth patient was undetermined.
Jerry Chen, a longtime member of the church, said a group of about 40 congregants had gathered in the fellowship hall for a luncheon after a morning service to welcome their former Pastor Billy Chang, a beloved and respected community member who had served the church for 20 years. Chang moved back to Taiwan two years ago. This was his first time back stateside, Chen said.
Everyone had just finished lunch and were taking photos with Chang when Chen went into the kitchen. That’s when he heard the gunshots.
Barnes said Cheng, a sports medicine doctor who is survived by a wife and two children, charged at the shooter and attempted to disarm him, allowing others to intervene. Chang hit the gunman on the head with a chair before other parishioners subdued him.
“I will tell you that evil was in that church,” Spitzer said, who added that Chou had “an absolute bias” against Taiwan and its people.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press