Suspect in Half Moon Bay farm shootings was an employee

HALF MOON BAY, Calif. (AP) — A farm worker has killed seven people in back-to-back shootings at two mushroom farms that employed him in northern California and the massacre is believed to be an “incident of workplace violence,” reports said. officials said. Tuesday, as the state mourned its third massacre in eight days.

Officers arrested Chunli Zhao, 66, on Monday after finding him in his car in the parking lot of a sheriff’s substation, San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus said.

Authorities believe Zhao acted alone when he walked into a mushroom farm in Half Moon Bay, California, and opened fire, killing four people and seriously injuring another. He then drove to another nearby farm where he previously worked and killed three other people, said Eamonn Allen, a spokesman for the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office.

No other details about Zhao’s motives or the names of the people he allegedly killed had been released Tuesday evening. He was arrested on suspicion of seven counts of murder and one count of attempted murder, according to prison records, and was being held without bond.

At an earlier press conference, Allen declined to answer questions about whether Zhao had a criminal history, stating that “there were no specific indicators that would have led us to believe he was capable of something like that”.

“All of the evidence we currently have points to an incident of workplace violence,” Allen said. The dead were five men and two women. The eighth victim, a man, remained in hospital. Some were Asian and some were Hispanic, and some were migrant workers.

This wouldn’t have been Zhao’s first fit of work rage, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.. In 2013, Zhao was charged with threatening to split a colleague’s head open with a knife and separately trying to suffocate the man with a pillow, the Chronicle reported, based on court documents.

The two were roommates and worked at a restaurant at the time, and the man, identified as Jingjiu Wang, filed a temporary restraining order against Zhao which was granted but is no longer in effect. Wang could not be reached immediately.

The sheriff’s office identified the first filming location as Mountain Mushroom Farm. But California Terra Garden took over the business last year, company spokesman David Oates said. He did not know how long Zhao worked there, adding that he was one of 35 employees who remained when the owner changed. Oates declined to provide details of the four workers killed.

The site of the second shooting was near Concord Farms. Owner Aaron Tung said in a statement that the farm is awaiting more information before commenting. He thanked the community for their support.

Half Moon Bay is a small, laid-back coastal and farming town located about 50 kilometers south of San Francisco. Its sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean make it a popular spot for hikers and tourists, who come here for surfing and for an annual pumpkin festival.

Earlier this month, the area was hit by heavy rains that caused flooding and damage, temporarily preventing farm workers from earning a living, said Half Moon Bay Vice Mayor Joaquin Jimenez. Several farm workers and their families lived in mobile homes at the mushroom farm where all four died and were moved to hotels and offered mental health and other support after the shooting. He said the farm employs 20 to 30 Chinese and Latino workers, some of them in the country without legal permission.

“There is a lot of fear. We have to understand that a lot of our farmworker community is also undocumented, so there’s also the fear of that, of their legal status. So it will be very difficult for them to come forward to ask for help,” said Jimenez, who is also director of the farmworker program for the Latino advocacy group ALAS.

Thousands of farmhands work in the wider San Mateo County, an area known for growing mainly flowers, peas, Brussels sprouts and beans. There are a few small mushroom growers in the area, said BJ Burns, president of the San Mateo County Farm Bureau.

California was still reeling from an attack at Monterey Park, just outside Los Angeles, which killed 11 people and cast a shadow over Lunar New Year celebrations, an important holiday for many Asian American communities. The authorities are still looking for a reason for Saturday’s shoot.

“For the second time in days, communities across California are mourning the loss of loved ones in a senseless act of gun violence,” President Joe Biden said Tuesday. “While we await further details on these shootings, we know the scourge of gun violence across America requires stronger action.”

The new year brought six massacres to the United States in less than three weeks, accounting for 39 deaths. Three have occurred in California since January 16, according to a database compiled by Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University. The database tracks all mass murders – defined as four deaths, not including the perpetrator – in the United States since 2006.

About two hours after first receiving reports of a shooting, a sheriff’s deputy spotted Zhao’s car parked outside a sheriff’s substation at a mall and pulled him over.

“He didn’t actively surrender to us,” Allen said, declining to answer a question about why Zhao drove there.

The video showed three officers approaching a parked car with weapons drawn. Zhao came out, and the police knocked him to the ground, handcuffed him, and took him away. A weapon was found in the vehicle, officials said. The video was captured by Kati McHugh, a Half Moon Bay resident who witnessed the arrest.

“We’re still trying to figure out exactly what happened and why, but it’s incredibly, incredibly tragic,” said Senator Josh Becker, who represents the area and called it a “very tight-knit farming community”.

It is a predominantly white community. About a third of the population is Latino and about 5% Asian, according to census data.

At an afternoon press conference, Governor Gavin Newsom said he met Chinese farmworkers who heard the gunshots. Speaking through a translator, they said it was difficult to understand what was going on.

“They had never heard such a noise,” he said.

The shooting was likely to leave some community members scared and looking for other work, he said.

“The trauma and the damage, the devastation, is felt for generations in some cases, communities being torn apart, no one feeling safe,” Newsom said.

The shootings in Half Moon Bay and Monterey Park followed the killing of a teenage mother, her baby and six others at a home in California’s Central Valley on January 16. Officials discussing the investigation mentioned a possible gang connection to the murders.


Associate News Writers Jocelyn Gecker and Janie Har in San Francisco and Sophie Austin in Sacramento, Calif., contributed.


This story has been corrected to say that Zhao is 66, not 67, based on new information from the sheriff’s department. It has also been corrected to say six men and two women were shot, not seven men and one woman, based on new information from the sheriff’s department.

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