January 26, 2023

The killings of 7 in Half Moon Bay are labeled as an act of ‘workplace violence’

The slayings of seven people, gunned down in a small Northern California city, was an act of “workplace violence” that victimized members of the “migrant community,” officials said Tuesday.

Suspect Chunli Zhao, a 66-year-old resident of Half Moon Bay, worked at Mountain Mushroom Farm, one of two agricultural businesses where workers were killed on Monday afternoon, authorities said.

“The only known connection between the victims and the suspect is that they may have been co-workers,” San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus told reporters in nearby Redwood City. “All of the evidence we have points to this being the instance of workplace violence.”

Five of the fatally wounded victims were men, Corpus said at a later news conference. Two were women. A man who was hospitalized with life-threatening wounds Monday was in stable condition, she said.

Zhao was arrested in the parking lot of a sheriff’s substation in Half Moon Bay shortly after the attacks.

“The semi-automatic handgun was legally purchased and owned,” Corpus said.

FBI agents arrive at the scene of a shooting on Monday in Half Moon Bay, Calif.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Sheriff’s investigators also said they’re struggling to notify loved ones of victims who were described as “members of the migrant community,” who were of Asian and Hispanic descent.

“As some of these victims were members of our migrant community, this represents a unique challenge when it comes to notifications (of survivors) and identifications,” Corpus said.

Robert Tripp, special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Francisco field office, said the agency provided technical and forensic support in the shooting’s aftermath. The bureau was transitioning to providing victims’ services, he said.

While investigators did not immediately disclose what, if any, criminal record Zhao might have, it didn’t rise to any level of significant concern, officials said.

“I will say there were no specific indicators that would have led us to believe that he was capable of something like this and he was not known to us,” sheriff’s Capt. Eamonn Allen said.

Zhao, who investigators had originally said was 67, is scheduled to make his first court appearance on Wednesday afternoon.

District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe called Monday’s attack the worst in San Mateo County history.

“We’ve never had one in this county of this many deaths … at one time,” the prosecutor said. “So it’s a very hectic scene.”

The scenic coastal city of roughly 11,000 is known for its farms — there are more than 100 in the area, according to state Sen. Josh Becker, whose district includes Half Moon Bay — and many people from out of town visit for its winter squash.

“Many of you come here for pumpkins and ignore the farm workers,” Half Moon Bay Vice Mayor Joaquin Jimenez told reporters Tuesday. “Not today.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom recalled speaking to migrants from China who saw the shooting but didn’t understand what they were witnessing.

“They thought they were acting,” Newsom said. “They’d never heard a sound like that. They’d never seen a scene like that. They didn’t know how to comprehend a gunshot wound.”

“Only in America do we see this kind of carnage,” he added.

President Joe Biden offered prayers for the victims and said in a statement: “For the second time in recent days, California communities are mourning the loss of loved ones in a senseless act of gun violence.”

The Half Moon Bay slayings were in the middle of a horrific 72-hour period of gun violence across California and the nation.

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