Half Moon Bay shooter charged with seven counts of murder
HALF MOON BAY, Calif. (AP) — A farm worker accused of killing seven people in consecutive shootings at two northern California mushroom farms faces seven counts of murder and one count of attempted murder, a prosecutor said Wednesday.
The charges will be brought before Chunli Zhao, 66, makes his first court appearance Wednesday afternoon, said Steve Wagstaffe, the San Mateo County District Attorney.
It was not immediately clear if Zhao had an attorney who could speak for him.
Authorities believe Zhao acted alone Monday when he entered a mushroom farm where he worked in Half Moon Bay and opened fire, killing four people and seriously injuring a fifth, San Mateo County Sheriff’s officials said. He then drove to another nearby farm where he previously worked and killed another three people, said Eamonn Allen, a sheriff’s spokesman.
The sheriff’s office said it believes the shootings were related to “workplace violence,” but did not specify a motive. It was California’s third mass shooting in eight days, including the killing of 11 in Monterey Park in the Los Angeles area amid Saturday’s Lunar New Year celebrations.
Zhao also faces a special circumstances charge of multiple murders, as well as aggravated sentences on each count of using a firearm, Wagstaffe said.
If convicted because of the circumstances, Zhao faces life imprisonment with no possibility of parole or the death penalty. Governor Gavin Newsom issued a moratorium on executions in 2019.
Officials have not yet released the names of the five men and two women who died, nor the one man who was injured. Some were Asian and some Hispanic, and some were migrant workers.
Servando Martinez Jimenez said his brother Marciano Martinez Jimenez, who was a supplier and manager at one of the farms, was among those killed. Servando Martinez Jimenez said his brother never mentioned Zhao or said anything about problems with other workers.
“He was a good person. He was polite and friendly to everyone. He never had problems with anyone. I don’t understand why all this happened,” Martinez Jimenez said in Spanish.
Marciano Martinez Jimenez, 50, had lived in the United States for 28 years after arriving from the Mexican state of Oaxaca. Servando Martinez Jimenez said he was working with the Mexican consulate to bring his brother’s body home.
Allen declined to answer questions about whether Zhao had a criminal record, saying, “There weren’t any specific signs that led us to believe he was capable of anything like that.”
But it wouldn’t have been Zhao’s first workplace tantrum, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. In 2013, Zhao was accused of threatening to split open a colleague’s head with a knife and separately attempting to suffocate the man with a pillow, the Chronicle reported based on court filings.
The two were roommates and worked at a restaurant, and the man identified as Jingjiu Wang filed a restraining order against Zhao, which was granted but is no longer in effect. Wang could not be reached immediately, the Chronicle reported.
The shootings took place at California Terra Garden, formerly known as Mountain Mushroom Farm, and near Concord Farms.
David Oates, a spokesman for California Terra Garden, said he didn’t know how long Zhao worked there and that he was one of 35 employees who stayed when ownership changed. Oates declined to provide details of the four workers killed.
Concord Farms owner Aaron Tung said in a statement that the farm is awaiting more information before commenting.
Half Moon Bay is a small, laid-back coastal and farming town about 30 miles south of San Francisco. Its sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean make it a popular spot for hikers and tourists who flock here for surfing and an annual giant pumpkin festival.
The New Year has brought six mass murders with 39 deaths in less than three weeks in the US. Three have performed in California since January 16, according to a database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University. The database tracks every mass murder — defined as four dead, not including the perpetrator — in the United States since 2006.
The Half Moon Bay and Monterey Park shootings followed the January 16 killing of a teenage mother, her baby and six others at a home in California’s Central Valley. Officials discussing the investigation mentioned a possible gang connection to the killings.
Gecker reported from San Francisco.