Suspect in murder of 7 people in Half Moon Bay identified as farm worker, 67-year-old Chunli Zhao


HALF MOON BAY, California — A farm worker killed seven people on the farm where he worked and another business in Northern California, sending the state into mourning again after the third mass murder in eight days.

Officers arrested a suspect in Monday’s shootings, 67-year-old Chunli Zhao, after finding him in his car in the parking lot of a sheriff’s substation, San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus said.

Seven people were found dead and an eighth injured at a ranch and other location several miles away, the sheriff’s office said. Officials suspect Zhao worked at one of the facilities and that the victims were also laborers, Corpus said. Officials have not determined a motive for the shooting.

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San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus confirmed Tuesday that Zhao was an employee at Mountain Mushroom Farm. She says the only known connection between the shooter and his victims is that “they may have been colleagues.”

The sheriff’s office said seven of the victims were male and one female. Some were Asian and others were Hispanic, and some were guest workers.

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Aerial television footage on Monday showed police officers collecting evidence from a farm with dozens of greenhouses, where police appeared to have found four dead. On Tuesday morning, police continued to cordon off the site.

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On January 16, a teenage mother and her baby were one of six killed in a shooting at a home in California’s Central Valley. Officials discussing the investigation named a possible gang associated with the murders.

California was still reeling from an attack on a Lunar New Year celebration in Monterey Park on Tuesday that left 11 dead and cast a shadow over an important holiday for 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 to a senseless act of gun violence,” President Joe Biden said Tuesday morning. “Even as we await further details on these shootings, we know that the scourge of gun violence across America requires a stronger response.”

The New Year has led to six mass murders in the US in less than three weeks, resulting in 39 deaths. Three have occurred in California since Jan. 16, according to a database compiled by The The US Express News, USA Today and Northeastern University. The database tracks every mass murder – defined as four deaths, not counting the perpetrator – committed in the US since 2006.

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The murders took place on the edge of Half Moon Bay, a city about 30 miles south of San Francisco.

Joaquin Jimenez, vice mayor of Half Moon Bay, said the victims included Chinese and Latino farm workers. Some employees lived in one of the facilities and children may have witnessed the shooting, she said. Corpus said it wasn’t immediately clear how the two sites were connected.

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The sheriff’s office first received reports of a shooting in the afternoon and found four dead and a fifth wounded in the first scene. Officers then found three more people shot dead nearby, Captain Eamonn Allen said in a press release.

About two hours later, a sheriff’s deputy saw Zhao’s car parked outside a sheriff’s substation in a strip mall and arrested him.

Video of the arrest showed three officers approaching a parked car with guns drawn. Zhao got out of the car, and the officers pulled him to the ground, handcuffed him, and led him away. A weapon was found in his vehicle, police said. The video was shot by Kati McHugh, a Half Moon Bay resident who witnessed the arrest.

The sheriff thinks Zhao acted alone.

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

Half Moon Bay is a small coastal town with agricultural roots, home to approximately 12,000 people. Surrounding San Mateo County is a mixture of coastal towns and hills dotted with farms, including flower and tree nurseries and ranches. The province also allows cannabis to be grown in greenhouses and nurseries in some areas.

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

“We are sickened by today’s tragedy in Half Moon Bay,” said Dave Pine, San Mateo County Supervisor. “We haven’t even had time to mourn those who died in the horrific Monterey Park shooting. The gun violence must stop.”

California Governor Gavin Newsom tweeted that he was “at the hospital meeting with mass shooting victims when I was pulled away to be briefed on another shooting. This time in Half Moon Bay. Tragedy upon tragedy.”

Aaron Tung, director of Concord Farms, one of the locations involved in the shooting, said in a statement: “With the little information available to us at this time, our comments are limited. We certainly thank the outpouring of thoughts and support from the community. We thank the police for their prompt response and actions. Concord Farms has been a family-run mushroom farm at this location for 37 years. Without any knowledge of this shooter or his motives, we are shocked and very “I look forward to more information from the authorities and their investigations. Our hearts are with the victims, their families and the Chinese American community – from Half Moon Bay to Monterey Park.”

TUSEN News contributed to this report.

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