HALF MOON BAY, Calif.
HALF MOON BAY, Calif. (AP) — A farm worker killed seven people in consecutive shootings at two mushroom farms that had employed him in Northern California in what is believed to be an “incident of violence in the workplace”, civil servants. he said Tuesday as the state mourned its third mass murder in eight days.
Officers arrested Chunli Zhao, 66, on Monday after he was found 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 entered the Mountain Mushroom Farm in Half Moon Bay, California, where he worked, and opened fire, killing four people and critically wounding another. He then drove to another nearby farm where he had previously worked and killed three other people, said Eamonn Allen, a spokesman for the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Allen declined to answer questions about whether Zhao had a criminal record, saying “there were no specific indicators that would have led us to believe that he was capable of something like this.”
“All the evidence we have right now points to an incident of workplace violence,” Allen said. Five men and two women were killed. The eighth gunshot victim, a man, remained in the hospital. Some were Asian and some were Hispanic, and some were migrant workers.
But it would not have been Zhao’s first workplace rage, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Tuesday. In 2013, Zhao was charged with threatening to split a co-worker’s head in with a knife and separately trying to suffocate the man with a pillow, the Chronicle reported, according to court documents.
The two were roommates and coworkers at a restaurant at the time, and the man identified as Jingjiu Wang filed a temporary restraining order against Zhao, which was granted and is no longer in effect. Wang could not immediately be reached.
The owner of the Mountain Mushroom Firm, where Zhao allegedly killed four people and injured a fifth on Monday, could not immediately be reached.
After the first incident, Zhao allegedly killed three others at nearby Concord Farms. Owner Aaron Tung said in a statement that the facility was waiting for more information before it could comment. He said the farm was a family operation for 37 years and thanked the community for their support.
Half Moon Bay is a sleepy little seaside town with agricultural roots about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of San Francisco. Its sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean make it a popular spot for hikers and tourists, who flock to the beaches for surfing and an annual giant pumpkin festival.
Earlier this month, the area was hit by severe storms that caused flooding and damage to the community, temporarily preventing farmworkers from earning income, Half Moon Bay Deputy Mayor Joaquín Jiménez said. Several farmworkers and their families were living at Mountain Mushroom Farm in mobile homes and had been relocated 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 undocumented.
“There is a lot of fear. We have to understand that a lot of our farmworker community is also undocumented, so there is also a fear of that, of their legal status. So for them to ask for help is going to be very difficult,” said Jiménez, who is also the director of the farmworker program for ALAS, an advocacy group for the Latino community in Half Moon Bay.
Thousands of farm workers work in vast San Mateo County, an area known primarily for growing flowers, peas, Brussels sprouts and lima beans. There are some small mushroom growers in the area, said BJ Burns, president of the San Mateo County Farm Bureau.
“We don’t need this kind of thing in agriculture,” he said of the shooting.
Aerial television footage on Monday showed police officers collecting evidence at a farm with dozens of greenhouses, which appeared to be the site where police found four dead. On Tuesday morning, the police continued to blockade the place. There was little visible activity on the second farm.
California was still reeling Tuesday from an attack at a Lunar New Year celebration in Monterey Park outside Los Angeles that killed 11 and cast a shadow over a holiday important to many Asian-American communities. Authorities are still looking for a motive for Saturday’s shooting.
“For the second time in recent days, California communities are mourning the loss of loved ones in a senseless act of gun violence,” President Joe Biden said Tuesday morning. “Even as we await more details on these shootings, we know the scourge of gun violence across America requires stronger action.”
The new year has brought six mass murders in the US in less than three weeks, representing 39 deaths. Three have occurred in California since Jan. 16, according to a database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University. The database tracks all mass murders, defined as four deaths not including the offender, committed in the US since 2006.
About two hours after receiving the first reports of a shooting, a sheriff’s deputy spotted Zhao’s car parked outside the sheriff’s substation in a shopping mall and arrested him.
“He didn’t actively give himself up to us,” Allen said, declining to answer a question about why Zhao had driven to the sheriff’s substation.
A video of the arrest showed three officers approaching a parked car with their weapons drawn. Zhao got out of the car, and the officers threw him to the ground, handcuffed him, and took him away. A weapon was found in his vehicle, authorities said. The video was captured by Kati McHugh, a Half Moon Bay resident who witnessed the arrest.
“We’re still trying to understand exactly what happened and why, but it’s incredibly, incredibly tragic,” said state Sen. Josh Becker, who represents the area and called it “a tight-knit farming community.”
It is a majority white community. About a third of the population is Latino and about 5% is Asian, according to census data.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom planned to speak at a news conference in Half Moon Bay on Tuesday afternoon.
The Half Moon Bay and Monterey Park shootings followed the killing of a teenage mother with her baby and six others in a shooting at a home in California’s Central Valley on January 16. Officials discussing the investigation mentioned a possible gang link in the killings.
Associated Press writers Jocelyn Gecker and Janie Har in San Francisco and Sophie Austin in Sacramento, California, contributed.
This story has been corrected to say Zhao is 66, not 67, according to 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, according to new information from the sheriff’s department.
Olga R. Rodriguez and Haven Daley, The Associated Press