A farmworker was charged on Wednesday with seven counts of murder and one count of attempted murder after allegedly killing seven people in back-to-back shootings at two mushroom fields in Northern California.
Chunli Zhao, 66, was scheduled to appear in court for the first time on Wednesday, but San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe announced that it has been postponed until Feb. 16. Calls and emails for comment from his two attorneys did not immediately receive a response.
Speaking outside the courthouse, Wagstaffe declined to provide any additional information about a possible reason for the murder of Zhao’s present and former employees, stating that he wished to keep the information private to guarantee a fair trial. According to sheriff’s officials, it was workplace violence.
According to Wagstaffe, it was the biggest mass shooting in San Mateo County history and the third mass shooting in California in eight days. It came after 11 people were killed during Lunar New Year celebrations on Saturday in the Los Angeles region.
When Zhao approached the Half Moon Bay mushroom farm where he worked on Monday, they believe he acted alone. He then shot and murdered four individuals and critically injured a fifth. According to Eamonn Allen, a sheriff’s spokesperson, the man next went to a nearby farm where he had previously worked and killed three more individuals.
At the property where Zhao is suspected of killing four people, Erlin Ortiz and her sister Miriam Ortiz pack mushrooms.
After their shift, they were relaxing in their car when they observed Zhao, who was only a few meters (40 feet) away, take a revolver out of a backpack, yell something to a fellow Chinese farmworker in Mandarin, and then shoot the man, they told the Bay Area News Group.
Zhao then shot a second worker and killed the first worker who had stood up and attempted to flee, according to Erlin Ortiz.
She described Zhao as being really red-faced and furious.
Miriam Ortiz’s husband, who was operating the vehicle, was startled and scared as he got ready to leave.
Zhao gave them a quick glance before getting on a forklift and moving toward the camp where he and the sisters were living. They said his demeanor had changed.
Zhao, who in a small garden plot farmed onions for himself and his wife, would wave and greet people, but he always seemed serious, according to Erlin Ortiz.
Although Governor Gavin Newsom has imposed a moratorium on executions, the accusations against Zhao contain further allegations that might lead to the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole. These accusations include the use of a gun by Zhao, as well as severe physical harm and many fatalities.
Six of the victims were identified by the coroner’s office: Zhishen Liu, age 73, of San Francisco; Marciano Martinez Jimenez, age 50, of Moss Beach, California; Aixiang Zhang, age 74; Qizhong Cheng, age 66; Jingzhi Lu, age 64; and Yetao Bing, age 43, whose hometown was unknown. Pedro Romero Perez is listed as the eighth victim who survived the gunshot, and Jose Romero Perez is listed as the other victim who died in the charging paperwork.
Some of the fatalities, according to officials, were migrant workers. According to Wagstaffe, some persons were shot inside trailers on the property.
According to Servando Martinez Jimenez, Marciano Martinez Jimenez, one of the fatalities, worked as a manager and delivery guy at one of the farms. Zhao was never brought up, and he never indicated any issues with the other employees.
He was a decent man. He was courteous and cordial to everyone. He was never in conflict with anyone. Martinez Jimenez uttered the following in Spanish: I don’t know why all of this happened.
After moving to the country from the Mexican state of Oaxaca, Marciano Martinez Jimenez had resided there for 28 years. To get his brother’s body home, Servando Martinez Jimenez claimed he is collaborating with the Mexican consulate.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Zhao’s workplace rage incident would not have been her first. According to court records cited by the Chronicle, Zhao was accused of attempting to strangle a coworker with a pillow and threatening to slice his skull open with a knife in 2013.
The man, Jingjiu Wang, sought a temporary restraining order against Zhao, which was granted but is no longer in place. The two were roommates and worked at a restaurant. The Chronicle said that they were unable to immediately reach Wang.
Zhao is from China and has been a resident of the US for at least a decade, according to Wagstaffe. Investigators are examining if the legal documents he once had to reside in the country are still legitimate, according to Wagstaffe. Additionally, they were investigating his earlier interactions with law enforcement.
At California Terra Garden, formerly Mountain Mushroom Farm, and nearby Concord Farms, gunshots started to happen.
The majority of the region’s farmworkers are Latino, but Belinda Hernandez, executive director of ALAS, a farmworker advocacy organization based in Half Moon Bay, noted that the Mountain Mushroom Farm was one of the few to employ Asian workers. She claimed that year-round employment is a benefit of mushroom farms.
Zhao was one of 35 workers who remained after ownership moved, according to David Oates, a representative for California Terra Garden, who claimed he did not know how long Zhao had worked there. On Wednesday, he said he would defer to law enforcement and would not make any other comments. Additionally, when contacted for more information on Wednesday, Concord Farms co-owner Aaron Tung remained silent.
A small, unhurried city located along the coast and in an agricultural region, Half Moon Bay is roughly 50 kilometers (40 miles) south of San Francisco. It is a well-liked destination for hikers and visitors who come to surf and attend an annual festival of enormous pumpkins because of the area’s expansive vistas of the Pacific Ocean.
In less than three weeks since the beginning of the year, there have been six mass killings in the US, resulting in 39 fatalities. According to a database created by The Associated Press, USA Today, and Northeastern University, three earthquakes have struck California since January 16. The database records each mass murder in the United States since 2006, which is defined as four fatalities (not counting the perpetrator).
The killing of a teenage woman, her infant, and four other people at a residence in California’s Central Valley on January 16 was followed by shootings in Half Moon Bay and Monterey Park. A potential gang connection to the deaths was highlighted by officials when addressing the inquiry.
It has been clarified that six, not eight, persons died on January 16 in the Central Valley of California.
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