Suspect in Half Moon Bay shooting rampage due in court

by Jacob Fuller

The man accused of fatally shooting seven farm workers near San Francisco this week, the second deadly gun rampage in California in recent days, was to appear in court on Wednesday afternoon.

Chunli Zhao, 66, the lone suspect in Monday’s massacre at two mushroom farms in the seaside town of Half Moon Bay, was expected to be formally presented with murder and other charges at the San Mateo County Superior Court in nearby Redwood City.

Also on Wednesday, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, a California native, planned to travel to the Los Angeles suburb of Monterey Park, site of the first of the recent deadly rampages. She is expected to meet with some families of the 11 people who were fatally shot on Saturday night by a gunman who later took his own life.

Coming in quick succession, the two shooting sprees left California reeling from one of the bloodiest spates of mass gun violence in decades in a state touted by its Democratic political leadership for some of the strictest firearm laws in the country.

Zhao was taken into custody on Monday evening outside a sheriff’s station, where police said he had driven shortly after the attack on farm workers. San Mateo County jail records showed Zhao was booked on suspicion of premeditated murder, attempted murder, and firearms offenses.

The precise motive for the shooting remained undetermined. Zhao had been employed by one of the growers, Mountain Mushroom Farm, and had resided at the property along with some other employees, according to a spokesperson for California Terra Gardens, which owns the farm. Authorities said early evidence indicated the bloodshed stemmed from a workplace grievance. The second crime scene, Concord Farms, is about a mile away.

IMMIGRANT COMMUNITIES

Half Moon Bay, a community of about 12,000 residents that is home to both a luxury resort and a low-income farming community, was hit hard by a string of deadly “atmospheric river” storms after Christmas and into this year.

The shooting, coming on the heels of the storms, cast a renewed spotlight on hardships faced by the area’s farm workers, many of them immigrants from Latin America and Asia who often live in squalid labor encampments and toil long hours under poor conditions for low pay.

While the San Mateo County Coroner has yet to release the victims’ names, two of them — Jose and Pedro Romero — were brothers who immigrated from Mexico and worked at Mountain Mushroom Farm, their cousin Jose Juarez told Reuters. Jose died and Pedro was hospitalized, Juarez said.

The Half Moon Bay killings unfolded two days after another gunman 380 miles to the south opened fire at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio, a club frequented mostly by older patrons of Asian descent in Monterey Park.

Eleven people died and nine were injured in Saturday night’s gunfire, which some survivors and bystanders said they initially mistook for fireworks as the predominantly Asian-American community was observing the start of the Lunar New Year.

Authorities said the assailant, Huu Can Tran, 72, drove a short time later to a second dance hall in the neighboring town of Alhambra, but was disarmed without firing a shot in a struggle with that club’s operator.

The next morning, Tran shot himself to death behind the wheel of his getaway vehicle as police closed in on him south of Los Angeles, leaving investigators with few clues as to what precipitated the dance hall carnage.

Copyright 2023 Thomson/Reuters

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