Half Moon Bay shooting: Victims ‘were killed with purpose, with intent, execution style’

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HALF MOON BAY — As a makeshift memorial of flowers and candles grew in Half Moon Bay Wednesday morning, new chilling details emerged surrounding the killing of seven farmworkers fatally shot while they worked at local farms by a fellow employee.

Chunli Zhao, a 66-year-old Half Moon Bay resident, was scheduled to be formally charged with seven counts of first-degree murder with a firearm enhancement and a count of attempted murder in a San Mateo County courtroom on Wednesday.

At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo joined Gov. Gavin Newsom and revealed some stunning details of the shooting.

“They were killed with purpose, with intent, execution style,” Eshoo told reporters. “This community, California and the country is reeling from it.”

Federico Nunez, whose ex-wife, Juana, works at Concord Farms, told KPIX she was able to escape the shooting unharmed.

Through an interpreter, Nunez said Juana was approached by a man she recognized as a former fellow employee as the workers were wrapping up their day.

He left and came back minutes later with a gun, killing her fellow workers. She told Nunez she believed she was left unharmed because she never had any issues with the man.

At a news conference Tuesday, San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus said that the only known connection between the alleged 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.”

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Chopper over a scene of a shooting in Half Moon Bay, January 23, 2023.

CBS


“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

The incident began on Monday 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. 

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.  

Half Moon Bay mass shooting suspect
A suspect is taken into custody following shootings in Half Moon Bay, California, on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023.

CBS


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.

“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.

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