Suspected Half Moon Bay shooter to be charged with 7 murders

HALF MOON BAY, Calif. (AP) — A farm worker is accused of killing seven people in back to back shots Two Northern California mushroom farms will be charged with seven counts of murder and one count of attempted murder, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Charges will be filed before Chunli Zhao, 66, makes his first court appearance Wednesday afternoon, said Steve Wagstaffe, San Mateo County District Attorney.

It was not immediately clear if Zhao had an attorney who could speak on his behalf.

Authorities believe Zhao was acting alone on Monday when he entered the mushroom farm where he worked in Half Moon Bay and opened fire, killing four people and critically wounding a fifth, San Mateo County sheriff’s officials said. He then drove to another nearby farm where he had previously worked and killed three more people, said Iman Allen, a sheriff’s spokesman.

The sheriff’s office said it believed the shooting was “workplace violence” but did not specify a motive. It was Third mass shooting in California in eight daysincluding the killing of 11 people in Monterey Park in the Los Angeles area during a Lunar New Year celebration on Saturday.

Zhao also faces a special charge of multiple murders, as well as an enhanced sentence on each firearm count, Wagstaffe said.

If convicted under special circumstances, Zhao could face life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty. In 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom instituted a moratorium on executions.

Officials have not yet released the names of the five men and two women who died, and no one injured. Some were Asian, others were Hispanic, and some were migrant workers.

Servando Martínez Jimenez said that among those killed was his brother Marciano Martínez Jimenez, who was a deliveryman and manager of one of the farms. 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 with everyone. He never had a problem with anyone. I don’t understand why all this happened,” Martinez Jimenez said in Spanish.

Marciano Martinez Jimenez, 50, has lived in the United States for 28 years after coming from the Mexican state of Oaxaca. Servando Martinez Jimenez said he is working with the Mexican consulate to get his brother’s body home.

Allen declined to answer questions about whether Zhao had a prior criminal history, saying there were “no specific indicators that would lead us to believe he was capable of something like this.”

But it wouldn’t be Zhao’s first bout of anger in the workplace, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. In 2013, Zhao was accused of threatening to split open a colleague’s head with a knife and separately trying to suffocate a man with a pillow, the Chronicle reported, based on court documents.

The two were roommates and worked at the restaurant, and the man, identified as Jinqiu Wang, filed a temporary restraining order against Zhao, which was granted but is no longer in effect. Wang could not immediately be reached, the Chronicle reported.

The shooting took place at California’s Terra Garden, formerly known as Mountain Mushroom Farm, and adjacent to Concord Farms.

David Oates, a spokesman for California Terra Garden, said he did not know how long Zhao had worked there, and that he was one of 35 employees who stayed on when the owner changed hands. Oates declined to provide details about the four workers who were killed.

Concord Farms owner Aaron Tung said in a statement that the farm is waiting for more information before commenting.

Half Moon Bay is a small, quiet, coastal and agricultural town about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of San Francisco. Its gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean make it a popular destination for tourists and backpackers who flock there for surfing and the annual Giant Pumpkin Festival.

New year brought 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 Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University. The database tracks every mass homicide — defined as the killing of four people, not including the perpetrator — in the U.S. since 2006.

The shootings in Half Moon Bay and Monterey Park followed the Jan. 16 slayings of a teenage mother, her child and six others at a home in California’s Central Valley. Officials have mentioned a possible connection to the gangland killings when discussing the investigation.

Hecker reported from San Francisco.

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