Update: ‘Workplace violence’ fueled employee’s Half Moon Bay mass killing spree – CBS San Francisco

HALF MOON BAY — The 66-year-old gunman who went on a killing spree at two mushroom farms in Half Moon Bay had legally purchased his firearm, had no prior contact with local law enforcement, and was an employee of one of the farms he targeted.

At a news conference Tuesday, San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus said six men and two women were allegedly shot by Half Moon Bay resident Chunli Zhao.

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Scene of mass shooting at a mushroom farm in Half Moon Bay, Calif., January 23, 2023. CBS

Officials later confirmed that five of the men and both women were killed. A male victim underwent surgery at Stanford and is in stable condition.

They also confirmed that Zhao was an employee at the formerly-named Mountain Mushroom Farm, now in operation as California Terra Garden, where four people were shot dead. He had previously worked at Concord Farms, the second shooting location, where authorities said he killed three people.

Corpus said that the only known connection between the shooter and his victims is that “they may have been coworkers.”  

“All the evidence we have points to this being workplace violence,” Corpus told reporters. “The Mountain Mushroom Farm, the first location, was where the suspect was employed.”

“We remain shocked and grief-stricken over the senseless loss of four of our friends and long-time employees, and we pray for the team member that remains in critical condition,” said California Terra Garden in a statement.   

Dave Oates, a spokesman for California Terra Garden, confirmed to KPIX late Tuesday that Zhao once lived at the Mountain Mushroom Farm site for seven years and that California Terra Garden took over operations in March 2022. 

Oates said there were three mobile homes and six trailers for employees on the premises. Many of the people who worked in the mushroom farms lived on site with their families in trailers and some of the children reportedly witnessed the violence. Those families have been temporarily relocated to area motels joining other farmworker families displaced by recent floods in the area.

Corpus said the coroner’s office was facing the difficult challenge of notifying the families of the seven workers who were killed because many were migrants.

CALIFORNIA MASS SHOOTINGS

Zhao was booked into the San Mateo County Maguire Correctional Facility on seven counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. Each count also included an enhancement of using a firearm in the course of the alleged crimes.

He was set to be officially charged at a Wednesday arraignment. 

“Zhao had no known criminal history in San Mateo County and there were no preceding factors known to law enforcement that would have suggested Zhao was about to carry out this heinous act of violence,” officials said in a news release.

The incident began with San Mateo County Sheriff’s deputies being dispatched at 2:22 p.m. to the Mountain Mushroom Farm on San Mateo Road near Highway 1 in unincorporated San Mateo County on a report of a shooting with multiple victims.

Upon arrival, deputies located four victims deceased with gunshot wounds. A fifth victim, also suffering from gunshot wounds, was transported to Stanford Medical Center with life-threatening injuries.  

Deputies then raced to the second shooting scene — this one at another mushroom farm located at 2125 Cabrillo Highway S./Highway 1. Three other deceased victims were found there a short time later, the sheriff’s office said. 

While it was not clear yet how the two businesses might be connected, the suspect was described as a disgruntled employee who worked at one of the farms. 

A view from above the mushroom farm showed deputies and law enforcement personnel gathered outside one of many greenhouses at the site. What appeared to be a body under a yellow tarp was visible at the entrance to one of the greenhouses.

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Officers take a man identified as Chunli Zhao into custody after he drove to a sheriff’s office media staging area following multiple shootings in Half Moon Bay that left at least seven people dead, January 23, 2023. CBS

During the police response to the shooting, the sheriff’s office said a media staging would be located at a substation at 537 Kelly Ave. At around 4:40 p.m., a man wearing a white baseball-style cap was seen being led away from the substation in handcuffs.  

According to the sheriff’s office, Zhao drove himself to the substation located between the two businesses and surrendered to deputies. The weapon —  a semiautomated handgun — used in the shootings was found in Zhao’s vehicle.

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Chunli Zhao California DMV

“It was a legally purchased firearm and owned,” San Mateo Sheriff’s Capt. Eamonn Allen told reporters. 

A family reunification center has been set up at the IDES Hall at 735 Main St. in Half Moon Bay. The hall is also providing shelter to those families who live in residences that are too close to the crime scenes to allow them to return home. 

“This kind of shooting is horrific,” Corpus said at a press conference Monday evening. “It’s a tragedy we hear about far too often, but today it’s hit home here in San Mateo County.”  

Raw: San Mateo County Sheriff provides update on Half Moon Bay mass shooting 16:01

Half Moon Bay Vice Mayor Joaquin Jimenez said the victims included Chinese and Latino farmworkers.  

While no information had been provided by the San Mateo County coroner’s office regarding the identities of the people who lost their lives in the shooting as of late Monday night, one woman confirmed she lost her partner in the deadly incident.

Alicia Ortega told KPIX her partner worked as a manager at the mushroom farm at 2125 Cabrillo Highway near Highway 1. 

Her worst nightmare became a reality Monday evening. Ortega confirmed that her partner, Martin Martinez, was one of the people fatally shot inside the mushroom farm. His coworker told her he witnessed the crime. 

“The morning, when he go to work, is the last time,” Ortega said of the last words she spoke with him.   

Monday’s shooting in Half Moon Bay is the worst mass shooting in the Bay Area since the VTA shooting in San Jose in May of 2021.

No motive has been announced in the deadly shooting. The incident comes only two days after a mass shooting in Monterey Park after a Lunar New Year Festival Saturday night that left 10 people dead and injured 10 more people.

On Sunday, around 11 a.m., Torrance police and Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies surrounded a white van described as a vehicle of interest at Hawthorne and Sepulveda Boulevards near Del Amo Mall, about 30 miles south of Monterey Park. 

The sheriff’s department said the suspect shot and killed himself inside the van. Detectives found evidence in the van, including a gun, linking him to both locations. No further suspects were sought.

Investigators identified the shooter as 72-year-old Huu Can Tran.  

On Monday, an 11th person died from “their extensive injuries,” according to an announcement from LAC+USC Medical Center.

Nestled along the Northern California coastline, Half Moon Bay is a quiet agricultural bedroom community most famous for its annual pumpkin festival and the Mavericks big wave surfing competition.

“This is an enormous tragedy. When any of us think of Half Moon Bay, it’s always a happy, pleasant thought. It’s the home of the pumpkin festival. It’s the Mavericks surfing competition. But today it’s murder. Seven precious lives lost,” Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Palo Alto) said in an interview with CBS News Bay Area. “We don’t understand why. We are grateful the sheriff’s department has the suspect in custody. But this is the shattering of the lives of seven families and it’s my understanding that one person has been taken to Stanford Medical Center for treatment and I understand it’s serious.”  

Eshoo also said officials are bringing in Chinese and Spanish interpreters to communicate with the families of the victims in Half Moon Bay.  

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