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Alleged gunman Chunli Zhao, 66. (San Mateo County Sheriffs Office)

California: 7 killed in apparent ‘workplace violence’

January 24, 2023
Police officers detain a man, believed to be the Half Moon Bay mass shooting suspect, in Half Moon Bay, California, U.S., January 23, 2023, in this screengrab taken from a social media video. (Kati McHugh/Reuters)

(CNN) — The 66-year-old man suspected of killing four people at a mushroom farm in California and three others at a nearby site Monday was an employee of the farm, San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus said Tuesday.

“All of the evidence we have points to this being the instance of workplace violence,” the sheriff said. “The only known connection between the victims and the suspect is that they may have been coworkers.”

The killings mark California’s second massacre in three days involving Asian American victims and suspects. The San Mateo County victims were either Asian or Hispanic, Corpus said.

The US has already suffered 39 mass shootings this month — more than any other start of the year on record.

In California, 19 people were slaughtered in three mass shootings in just 44 hours:

• Eleven people killed after a gunman opened fire at a dance studio in Monterey Park, near Los Angeles;

• Seven people killed Monday in the Half Moon Bay area near San Francisco;

• One person killed and seven others wounded Monday evening in Oakland.

While the motives remain a mystery, the Half Moon Bay killings bear some similarities to the carnage in Monterey Park. That’s where 72-year-old Huu Can Tran gunned down 20 people — killing 11 — during Lunar New Year weekend celebrations, authorities said.

Both cases share ties to the Asian American community. And the shooter or suspect in each is of Asian descent and far older than the 33-year-old average age of mass shooting perpetrators, according to the Rockefeller Institute of Government.

In San Mateo County, suspect Chunli Zhao was taken into in custody about two hours after the first call to police while he was parked at a sheriff’s substation with a semi-automatic handgun in his vehicle, the sheriff said.

“We do know is that some of the victims were Chinese, that the perpetrator was Chinese and that this was an agricultural community — they were agricultural workers,” Half Moon Bay Mayor Deborah Penrose said Tuesday.

Officers in San Mateo County found four people dead and one person wounded at a mushroom farm. Moments later, three more people were found dead near a trucking facility about two miles away in Half Moon Bay, county officials said.

That same evening, yet more bloodshed unfolded — this time in the Bay Area city of Oakland. One person was killed and seven more wounded were in stable condition, police there said.

‘Tragedy upon tragedy’

California Gov. Gavin Newsom was at a hospital meeting wounded victims of the Monterey Park shooting when he was “pulled away to be briefed about another shooting — this time in Half Moon Bay,” he said.

“Tragedy upon tragedy,” Newsom tweeted.

President Joe Biden is praying Tuesday for the victims in Half Moon Bay and again calling on Congress to “act quickly” and ban assault weapons, he said in a statement, adding: “We know the scourge of gun violence across America requires stronger action.”

The mayor of Monterey Park, still dazed by the slaughter in his city, gave his condolences to those grieving in Half Moon Bay.

“I know what is in store for them in the next few days,” Mayor Henry Lo said, offering his support during their “long road of recovery.”

The San Mateo County mushroom farm’s owners had no knowledge of the gunman nor his motive, they said.

“We are shook and very eager to gain more information from the authorities and their investigations,” Concord Farms said in a statement to CNN. “Our hearts are with the victims, their families and the Chinese American community — from Half Moon Bay to Monterey Park.”

Flood-ravaged community faces new horror

The Half Moon Bay community must unite in healing — and support each other to address gun violence — San Mateo County Supervisor Ray Mueller said.

“There were farmworkers affected tonight; there were children on the scene at the incidents. This is a truly heartbreaking tragedy in our community,” Mueller said.

Mueller spoke to the mental health toll the violence has unleashed in the community and urged people to seek help, especially as the city has been trying to recover from the impact of recent deadly flooding that stretched across large swaths of the state.

“Please take advantage of the mental health crisis counseling that is available,” he said, adding anyone can reach out to the county’s hotline. “You are not alone.”

Half Moon Bay Vice Mayor Joaquin Jimenez also urged residents to seek mental health counseling.

“This is something that we get to watch on the news. Never think that it’s gonna come and hit home,” Jimenez said. “Today, we are the news. Our community has been affected.”

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