The killing of seven people, shot dead in a small northern California town, was an act of “workplace violence” that victimized members of the “immigrant community”, officials said Tuesday.
Suspect Chunli Zhao, a 66-year-old Half Moon Bay resident, worked at Mountain Mushroom Farm, one of two farms 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 colleagues,” he added. San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus told reporters in nearby Redwood. “All the evidence we have points to this being an example of workplace violence.”
Five of the fatally injured victims were men, Corpus said at a later news conference. Two were women. A man who was hospitalized Monday with life-threatening injuries 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.
Sheriff’s investigators also said they were having trouble notifying relatives of victims 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 presents a unique challenge in terms of (survivor) notifications 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 following the shooting. The office was transitioning to providing victim services, he said.
Although investigators did not immediately disclose Zhao’s criminal record, if any, it did not cause significant concern, officials said.
“I will say there were no specific indicators that would have led us to believe he was capable of something like this and he was not known to us,” Sheriff Captain Eamonn Allen said.
Zhao, who investigators said was initially 67, is due 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 with so many deaths…at the same time,” the prosecutor said. “So it’s a very hectic scene.”
The quaint coastal town of around 11,000 is known for its farms – there are more than 100 in the area, according to Senator Josh Becker, whose district includes Half Moon Bay – and many people from outside the city visit for its winter squash.
“A lot of you come here for pumpkins and ignore the farm workers,” Half Moon Bay Vice Mayor Joaquin Jimenez told reporters on Tuesday. “Not today.”
California Governor Gavin Newsom recalled speaking to migrants from China who saw the shooting but did not understand what they were witnessing.
“They thought they were acting,” Newsom said. “They had never heard a noise like that. They had never seen a scene like that. They didn’t know how to understand 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, communities across California are mourning the loss of loved ones in a senseless act of gun violence.”
The Half Moon Bay killings unfolded amid a gruesome 72-hour period of gun violence across California and the country.
- A man in Monterey Park, a predominantly Asian suburb of Los Angeles, shot and killed 11 people at a Lunar New Year dance party late Saturday night, authorities said.
- A dozen people were injured early Sunday morning when gunfire erupted at a bar in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, police said.
- Two students, ages 18 and 16, were shot dead Monday afternoon at a charter school in Des Moines, Iowa, which is geared towards underprivileged youth and has strong ties to police, authorities said . An 18-year-old has been arrested and faces two counts of murder.
- Less than five hours after the shooting began in Half Moon Bay, gunfire broke out 40 miles away in Oakland where one person was killed and seven others injured, police said.
- Three people were shot to death early Tuesday morning at a Circle K convenience store in Yakima, Wash., officials said. A 21-year-old suspect was found dead on Tuesday.