A farm worker in Northern California has reportedly killed seven people as part of a “workplace violence incident,” the third fatal mass shooting in the state in just over a week.
Police are questioning 67-year-old Chunli Zhao, who they say shot dead four and injured one more Monday afternoon at a mushroom farm where he worked in Half Moon Bay, a coastal community 30 miles south of San Francisco.
He then went to a transport company about 5 miles away and killed three more, officials said. He was taken into custody without incident after being seen in a car by a deputy sheriff in the parking lot of a sheriff’s substation. He is being held without bail and is expected to be arraigned on Wednesday.
California has been ravaged by back-to-back gun violence in recent days. The new year has seen multiple mass murders — that is, with at least four fatalities, not counting the perpetrator — in the US, three of which took place in California. Within 48 hours, 18 people died in mass shootings across the state, including 11 people who died Saturday at a New Year’s Eve event at a dance hall in Monterey Park.
Last week, a “horrific massacre” in the small town of Goshen in the Central Valley left six people dead, including a teenage mother and her 10-month-old baby.
Violence in Half Moon Bay has devastated the coastal city of 12,000, an agricultural center known for producing pumpkins and flowers, particularly the area’s farm workers, many of whom are immigrants. “Many of these workers came to this country to work and provide for their families. Instead, many of them lost relatives yesterday,” said Christina Corpus, San Mateo’s first Latina sheriff.
Local agencies are providing income replacement for workers affected by the shooting and hotel rooms for affected families.
“Right now we’re reaching out to the community with mental health services and trying to help the families as best we can, and trying to understand what an absolutely pointless act is,” said Dave Pine, president of the San Mateo county board. of supervisors, told NPR’s Morning Edition on Tuesday.
“We mourn the loss of these innocent people and look forward to a day when we no longer fear gun violence in our community and country.”
Detectives are looking for a motive for the shooting in Half Moon Bay, which the sheriff said Tuesday was not a random attack since Zhao was an employee at Mountain Mushroom Farm.
“All the evidence we have points to this being the case of workplace violence,” Corpus said. “The only known connection between the victims and the suspect is that they may have been colleagues.”
“I do believe he had the opportunity to hurt other people, but he has targeted individuals that he pursued and pursued,” she told TSTIME.
Corpus told a news conference Monday night that the suspect was a mushroom grower acting alone and there was no further threat to the community.
The gunman opened fire on farm workers without regard to who was around, Corpus said.
“It was in the afternoon when the children did not go to school. For kids to see this, it’s unspeakable,” she said.
“People saw him there today and it seemed like a normal day for everyone, and then this tragedy happened.”
Video of the suspect’s arrest showed three officers, guns drawn, approaching a parked car in the parking lot of the sheriff’s substation in a strip mall. The man was pulled to the ground after emerging from the vehicle, handcuffed and taken away.
FBI agents are assisting the investigation, the agency said Tuesday, providing forensic and technical support and victim assistance and trying to determine how the gunman obtained the weapon. Corpus said he used a semi-automatic pistol recovered from his vehicle, telling TSTIME on Tuesday that the weapon was legally owned and registered to the suspect.
Joe Biden expressed his condolences in a White House statement Tuesday morning, again calling on Congress to reinstate a nationwide ban on assault weapons.
“For the second time in recent days, California communities mourn the loss of loved ones to a senseless act of gun violence,” the president said.
“Even as we await further details on these shootings, we know that the scourge of gun violence across America calls for stronger action. I again urge both chambers of Congress to act quickly and place this assault weapons ban on my desk, and take action to keep American communities, schools, workplaces and homes safe.
California Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom tweeted that he was “at the hospital meeting with mass shooting victims when I was pulled away to be briefed on another shooting. This time in Half Moon Bay. Tragedy upon tragedy.”
At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, the governor and other elected officials called for action to address the ongoing gun violence plaguing America.
“The least of us are the ones making headlines today across the country, around the world – those are the farm workers. They were killed on purpose, on purpose, execution style,” said Congresswoman Anna Eshoo. “We have unfinished business in our country to address gun violence…until it is our unfinished business, there will be pain in many communities.”
The governor promised the state would look at what it could do to reduce gun violence, but said California cannot do it alone and more action is needed from officials in Congress.
“What the hell is going on?” Newsom said. “It is said all the time ‘only in America’. Number one in gun ownership, number one in gun deaths. It’s not even complicated… It doesn’t have to be that way, wasn’t always that way. We made this happen.”
Pine, the San Mateo supervisor, spoke emotionally at Monday’s press briefing when he blamed the tragedies on the abundance of guns in the US, 120 for every 100 residents. In a survey published last year, one-third of Americans admitted to legally owning a gun, and 6 million Americans said they carry a loaded handgun on a daily basis.
“We just have too many guns in this country. We have more guns than people,” he told NPR.
“Research has shown that we are unique in the world in terms of gun violence and that is really due to the total number of guns available. When people are in crisis, they often have access to a weapon. We need to ensure that guns are better regulated.”
State Senator Josh Becker, who represents much of San Mateo county, called the area “a very tight-knit” farming community. “We’re still trying to understand exactly what happened and why, but it’s just incredibly, incredibly tragic,” he said.
Joaquin Jimenez, the vice mayor of Half Moon Bay, said the shooting of farm workers has drawn attention to the challenges they face and urged the community to unite, as it has with recent disasters.
“Now is the time for us all to come together and bring the support,” he said. “We never thought it would happen in our beautiful community, but it did.”
The The Singapore Time contributed to this report