HALF MOON BAY, California — A farm hand killed seven people at the farm he worked on and at another business in Northern California, once again plunging the state into mourning after his third mass murder in eight days.
Officials arrested a suspect in Monday’s shooting, 67-year-old Chunli Zhao, after finding him in his car in a sheriff’s substation parking lot, San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus said.
Seven people were found dead and an eighth injured at a farm and another location several miles away, the sheriff’s office said. Officials have suspected that Zhao worked at one of the facilities and that the victims were workers as well, Corpus said. Officials have not determined a motive for the shooting.
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San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus confirmed Tuesday that Zhao was an employee of Mountain Mushroom Farm. She says the only known connection between the shooter and his victims is that “they may have been colleagues.”
The sheriff’s office said seven of the victims were men and one was a woman. Some were Asian and some Hispanic, and some were migrant workers.
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Aerial photos taken Monday showed police officers collecting evidence from a farm with dozens of greenhouses, which appears to be where police found four bodies dead. Police continued to cordon off the area on Tuesday morning.
On January 16, a teenage mother and her baby were among six people killed in a shooting at a home in California’s Central Valley. Officials discussing the investigation mentioned a possible gang connection to the killings.
California was still reeling from an attack on a New Year’s celebration in Monterey Park on Tuesday that killed 11 and eclipsed an important holiday for many Asian American communities. Authorities are still looking for a motive for Saturday’s shooting.
“For the second time in recent days, California communities are mourning the loss of loved ones to a senseless act of gun violence,” President Joe Biden said Tuesday morning. “While we await more details on these shootings, we know the scourge of gun violence across America requires stronger action.”
The New Year has brought six mass murders with 39 deaths in less than three weeks in the US. Three have performed in California since January 16, according to a database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University. The database tracks every mass murder – defined as four dead without the perpetrator – committed in the United States since 2006.
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The murders occurred on the outskirts of Half Moon Bay, a city about 30 miles (48 kilometers) south of San Francisco.
Half Moon Bay vice mayor Joaquin Jimenez said the victims included Chinese and Latino farm workers. Some workers lived at one of the facilities, and children may have witnessed the shooting, she said. Corpus said it’s not immediately clear how the two sites are linked.
The sheriff’s office first received reports of a shooting that afternoon and found four dead and a fifth wounded at the first scene. Officials then found three other people fatally shot nearby, Captain Eamonn Allen said in a news release.
About two hours later, a sheriff’s deputy spotted Zhao’s car parked in front of a sheriff’s substation at a mall and arrested him.
Video of the arrest showed three officers approaching a parked car, guns drawn. Zhao got out of the car and the officers dragged him to the ground, handcuffed him, and led him away. A gun was found in his vehicle, officials said. The video was captured by Kati McHugh, a Half Moon Bay resident who witnessed the arrest.
The sheriff’s department believes Zhao acted alone.
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“We’re still trying to understand exactly what happened and why, but it’s just unbelievably, unbelievably tragic,” said state Senator Josh Becker, who represents the area and called it “a very tight-knit” farming community.
Half Moon Bay is a small coastal town with farming roots that is home to approximately 12,000 people. Surrounding San Mateo County is a mix of coastal towns and hills dotted with farms, flower and tree nurseries, and ranches. The county also permits the cultivation of cannabis in greenhouses and nurseries in some areas.
It is a majority white community. According to census data, about a third of the population is Latino and about 5% Asian.
“We are disgusted by today’s tragedy in Half Moon Bay,” said San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine. “We didn’t even have time to mourn those lost in the horrific Monterey Park shooting. Gun violence must stop.”
California Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted that he was “at the hospital meeting with victims of a mass shooting when I am pulled away to be briefed on another shooting. This time in Half Moon Bay. Tragedy upon tragedy.”
Aaron Tung, director of Concord Farms, one of the locations involved in the filming, said in a statement, “With the little information we have at this time, our comments and support from the community are limited. We thank the law enforcement authorities for their quick response and action. Concord Farms is a family owned mushroom farm and has been operating at this location for 37 years. As we have no historical knowledge of this shooter or his motives, we are shocked and deeply shocked. We are eager to learn more from the authorities and their investigation. Our hearts go out to the victims, their families and the Chinese American community from Half Moon Bay to Monterey Park.”
ABC News contributed to this report.