The man suspected of killing four people at a California mushroom farm and three others at a nearby site was in legal possession of a semi-automatic weapon registered to him, San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus said.
The suspect, whom authorities identified as 66-year-old Chunli Zhao, was not known to local law enforcement prior to the massacre and had shown no warning signals to the knowledge of the sheriff’s office, said Corpus told CNN on Tuesday morning.
“There was nothing that could have uplifted or lifted us to have any concerns with him at that time, prior to this incident,” the sheriff said.
This was a case, the sheriff continued, where someone “broke” and “innocent people were killed.”
Officers found four people dead and one person injured in the mushroom house and moments later found three more people dead at a separate site about two miles away, officials said.
The sheriff described the attack as an “incident of workplace violence,” saying Zhao targeted specific people and, while he had the opportunity to hurt others, “he chased and chased” some people.
The sheriff’s office described the suspect as a “colleague or former colleague” of the victims at each shooting site.
Zhao is expected to appear in court for arraignment Wednesday afternoon, San Mateo County Chief Assistant District Attorney Sean Gallagher said.
Many questions remain unanswered about the attack, including what might have prompted the shooting, who the victims were and why they were targeted.
But here’s what we know about the alleged shooter.
County officials said authorities were unaware of “previous factors” that would have suggested Zhao would carry out the attack.
But this was not the first time he had been accused of violence against someone he worked with, according to court records obtained by CNN.
Zhao was placed on a temporary restraining order after a former colleague and roommate accused him of assaulting and threatening him in 2013.
Yingjiu Wang, who worked with Zhao at a restaurant and lived with him in a San Jose apartment, wrote in a court statement that Zhao’s violent behavior began after Zhao quit his job in March 2013.
Early in the morning two days later, Zhao walked into Wang’s room and asked for his salary. When Wang told him to pick it up from the restaurant, Zhao said he would kill Wang, then “took a pillow and started covering my face and choking me,” Wang wrote.
“While I couldn’t (breathe), I used all my strength within seconds to push him away with my blanket,” Wang wrote. He said he called for help and another roommate came to the door, but Zhao allegedly locked it. The two ended up fighting on Wang’s bed before Zhao calmed down, according to Wang.
Two days later, he wrote, Zhao threatened him again, saying “he can use a knife to cut off my head if he can’t go back to work.” Wang wrote that he had no control over Zhao’s work status at the restaurant.
A judge issued a temporary restraining order against Zhao, which prevented him from getting too close to Wang and prohibited him from owning or buying a firearm, according to court documents. The restraining order expired in July 2013. A lawyer for Zhao in the 2013 lawsuit did not respond to requests for comment, and Wang could not be reached for comment.
The incident was first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.
Zhao lived at the first property, where four victims were killed, for about seven years, according to California Terra Garden spokesman David Oates.
The site, formerly known as Mountain Mushroom Farm, was acquired by California Terra Garden Company in March 2022, Oates said.
There are several mobile homes and trailers for employees on the property, where the suspect lived, Oates added.
Zhao was one of about 35 employees working at the farm, the spokesperson said, adding that in background checks of all employees there was no evidence that anything like this was even a possibility.
An employee who did not want to be named told CNN he had known the suspect for about six years and considered him a “nice guy.” The two were co-workers at the farm and were both working on Monday, the employee said.
The employee told CNN he took cover when the shooting began and when the gunfire stopped he saw the suspect drive away from the scene on a forklift.
Zhao, who authorities say acted alone, was arrested about two hours after authorities received initial reports of a shooting.
Deputies were dispatched shortly after 2:20 p.m. local time. At approximately 4:40 p.m., the suspect was taken into custody after authorities found him in his vehicle in the parking lot of the police station at the Half Moon Bay Sheriff’s Office, the sheriff’s office said in a statement. Press.
A weapon was also found in his car, the statement added.
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