HALF MOON BAY, Calif. (KRON) — A gunman went on a rampage in the quiet coastal town of Half Moon Bay, killing seven farm workers in broad daylight Monday.
San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus and District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe released new details Tuesday morning at a news conference held outside a Redwood City courthouse. They clarified conflicting information and detailed what investigators know so far about the accused gunman, 66-year-old Chunli Zhao, and how the mass shooting happened.
“Cases like this, we’ve never had one in this county, of this many deaths. It was a very hectic scene. The sheriff’s office did a magnificent job investigating this case,” Wagstaffe said.
1. Victims were Asian and Latin immigrant farm workers
Sheriff Corpus said the victims were Asian and Latin migrant farm workers. Five men and two women were gunned down. An eighth shooting victim survived and is currently in stable condition at a hospital. Some of the victims lived and worked on the farms. Corpus said her coroner’s office is attempting to notify the victims’ families, however, this is especially challenging because families members live in other countries. Children also live on the farms and may have witnessed Monday’s horrific violence, investigators said. None of the victims’ names have been released by the coroner.
“Victims were adults and a mixture of Hispanic and Asian descent. Some of these victims were members of our migrant community,” Sheriff Corpus said.
2. Chunli Zhao did not self-surrender
Two hours into the manhunt, Zhao drove himself the San Mateo County Sheriff’s substation parking lot at 537 Kelly Avenue in Half Moon Bay. There were several journalists arriving in the parking lot at the time because it was designated by sheriff as a media staging area.
An eagle-eyed deputy spotted Zhao inside his SUV and realized its license plate matched the suspect’s plate. The deputy, as well as two more deputies, pointed their guns at the SUV, ordered him to come out with his hands up, and tackled him to the ground. Zhao attempted to yell something to a nearby TV news cameraman but he was tackled facedown and placed in handcuffs. Reporters, including KRON4’s Sara Stinson, witnessed Zhao’s apprehension and arrest.
Even though Zhao drove to the substation, Sheriff’s Captain Eamonn Allen said he would not describe the arrest as a self-surrender.
“He did not actively surrender to us. One of our deputies located the vehicle there and recognized it. He started giving the subject commands. The subject was still seated in the vehicle,” Allen said. “The subject exited the vehicle and was taken into custody.”
3. Both homicide scenes were farms in Half Moon Bay
The first shooting happened at Mountain Mushroom Farm, located at 12761 San Mateo Road, where the alleged gunman worked. Zhao gunned down five people, killing four, investigators said.
Not long after the first shooting, Zhao drove to Concord Farms at 2125 Cabrillo Highway where he fatally shot three more victims, investigators said.
4. Killing spree described as ‘workplace violence’
Zhao worked for Mountain Mushroom Farm and lived in Half Moon Bay at the time of the killing spree. Sheriff Corpus said investigators need more time before they release a definitive motive. She declined to say whether the victims were the killer’s intended targets.
“All the evidence we have points to this being the instance of workplace violence. Only known connection between the victims and the suspect is they may have been co-workers,” Sheriff Corpus said.
The victims were shot inside trailers at one farm and in an agricultural field. Crime scene investigators combed through the trailers Tuesday morning looking for forensic evidence.
5. The murder weapon was legally-purchased
Zhao bought and owned the murder weapon, a semi-automatic handgun, Sheriff Corpus said. He left the gun inside his SUV when he parked it at the sheriff’s substation. Deputies who tackled Zhao immediately searched him for weapons and he appeared to be unarmed. Zhao is cooperating with investigators.
Officials are not releasing what Zhao had said so far to investigators during interrogations. Wagstaffe said the case will move forward the right way, through the court of law, and not through the public eye.
Zhao did not have a lengthy criminal history in San Mateo County. “There were no specific indicators that he was capable of something like this,” Allen said.