cloudyn.png
Thursday February 2nd, 2023 6:46AM

Suspect in Half Moon Bay farm killings faces 7 murder counts

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

HALF MOON BAY, Calif. (AP) — A farmworker accused of killing seven people in back-to-back shootings at two Northern California mushroom farms was charged Wednesday with seven counts of murder and one of attempted murder.

Chunli Zhao, 66, was set to make his first court appearance Wednesday but it was postponed until Feb. 16, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said. His two attorneys did not immediately respond to calls and emails seeking comment.

Wagstaffe, speaking outside the courthouse, declined to share any additional details on a motive in the killing of Zhao's current and former coworkers, saying he wanted to keep the details out of the public eye to ensure a fair trial. Sheriff's officials have said it was workplace violence.

It was California’s third mass shooting in eight days, and the largest in San Mateo County's history, Wagstaffe said. It followed the killing of 11 people in the Los Angeles area amid Lunar New Year celebrations Saturday.

Authorities believe Zhao acted alone Monday when he entered a mushroom farm where he worked in Half Moon Bay, shot and killed four people and seriously wounded a fifth. He then drove to a nearby farm where he worked previously and killed three more people, said Eamonn Allen, a sheriff’s spokesperson.

Erlin Ortiz and her sister, Miriam Ortiz, pack mushrooms at the farm where Zhao is accused of killing four people.

They were sitting in their car after their shift when they saw Zhao, who was about 40 feet (12 meters) away, pull a gun from a backpack, shout something in Mandarin to a fellow Chinese farmworker and then shoot the man, they told the Bay Area News Group.

Zhao then shot a second worker, and gunned down the first worker who had gotten to his feet and tried to run away, Erlin Ortiz said.

“He was super red and very angry," she said of Zhao.

Shocked and horrified, Miriam Ortiz’s husband, who was behind the wheel, started the car and prepared to drive away.

Zhao turned to look at them, then hopped onto a forklift and headed toward an encampment on the farm where he and the sisters lived. His demeanor had changed, they said.

“He was laughing, he was smiling,” Erlin Ortiz said. “We saw him get on the forklift, and when he turned to see us, he was making fun of the situation.”

Erlin Ortiz said Zhao, who grew onions for himself and his wife in a little garden plot, would wave and greet them but always seemed serious.

The charges against Zhao include additional allegations that could result in the death penalty or life in prison without parole, though Gov. Gavin Newsom has issued a moratorium on executions. Among those allegations are that Zhao used a gun, caused great bodily injury and killed multiple people.

The coroner's office named six of the victims: Zhishen Liu, 73, of San Francisco; Marciano Martinez Jimenez, 50, of Moss Beach, California; Aixiang Zhang, 74, of San Francisco; Qizhong Cheng, 66, of Half Moon Bay; Jingzhi Lu, 64, of Half Moon Bay; and Yetao Bing, 43, whose hometown was unknown. The charging documents identify Jose Romero Perez as the other person killed and Pedro Romero Perez as the eighth victim, who survived the shooting.

Officials have said some of the people killed were migrant workers. Some people were shot in trailers on the property, Wagstaffe said.

Servando Martinez Jimenez said his brother Marciano Martinez Jimenez, one of the victims, was a delivery person and manager at one of the farms. He never mentioned Zhao or said anything about problems with other workers.

“He was a good person. He was polite and friendly with everyone. He never had any problems with anyone. I don’t understand why all this happened,” Martinez Jimenez said in Spanish.

Marciano Martinez Jimenez had lived in the United States for 28 years after arriving from the Mexican state of Oaxaca. Servando Martinez Jimenez said he is working with the Mexican consulate to get his brother’s body home.

It would not have been Zhao’s first fit of workplace rage, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. In 2013, Zhao was accused of threatening to split a coworker’s head open with a knife and separately tried to suffocate the man with a pillow, the Chronicle reported, based on court documents.

The two were roommates and worked at a restaurant, and the man, identified as Jingjiu Wang, filed a temporary restraining order against Zhao that was granted but is no longer in effect. Wang could not be immediately reached, the Chronicle reported.

Zhao is from China and has lived in the United States for at least a dozen years, Wagstaffe said. He had legal paperwork to live in the country at one time and investigators were determining whether it was still valid, Wagstaffe said. They were also looking into his prior contact with law enforcement.

The shootings broke out at California Terra Garden, previously known as Mountain Mushroom Farm, and nearby Concord Farms.

The majority of farmworkers in the area are Latinos but the Mountain Mushroom Farm was one of the few that employed Asian workers, said Belinda Hernandez, executive director of ALAS, a farmworker advocacy group based in Half Moon Bay. She said that mushroom farms offer the benefit of year-round work.

David Oates, a California Terra Garden spokesperson, said that he did not know how long Zhao worked there and that he was one of 35 employees who had stayed when ownership changed. He declined to comment further Wednesday, saying he would defer to law enforcement. And Aaron Tung, part owner of Concord Farms, did not respond Wednesday to a request for additional comment.

Half Moon Bay is a small, laid-back, coastal and agricultural city about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of San Francisco. Its sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean make it a popular spot for hikers and tourists, who flock there to surf and for an annual giant pumpkin festival.

The new year has brought six mass killings in the U.S. in fewer than three weeks, accounting for 39 deaths. Three have struck California since Jan. 16, according to a database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University. The database tracks every mass killing — defined as four dead, not including the offender — in the U.S. since 2006.

The shootings in Half Moon Bay and Monterey Park followed the killing of a teenage mother, her baby and four others at a home in California’s Central Valley on Jan. 16. Officials discussing the investigation mentioned a possible gang link to the killings. ___

This story has been corrected to say six people, not eight people, were killed in California’s Central Valley on Jan. 16.

___

Gecker reported from San Francisco. Associated Press writers Janie Har in San Francisco and Sophie Austin in Sacramento, along with researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York, contributed.

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, Top General short headlines
© Copyright 2023 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Suspect in Half Moon Bay farm killings faces 7 murder counts
A farmworker accused of killing seven people in shootings at two Northern California mushroom farms has been charged with seven counts of murder
2:42PM ( 4 minutes ago )
NRA sues over Illinois ban on semiautomatic weapons
A new federal lawsuit contends that Illinois’ two-week-old ban on semiautomatic weapons outlaws “ubiquitous” firearms in “radical” defiance of the Constitution’s Second Amendment
2:29PM ( 16 minutes ago )
Tax season already? Some tips for avoiding stress and scams
Tax season is here again
2:05PM ( 40 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
US, Germany sending battle tanks to aid Ukraine war effort
Germany and the United States say they will send tanks to Ukraine as part a coordinated effort by the West to provide dozens of the heavy weapons to help Kyiv break battlefield stalemates as Russia’s invasion enters its 12th month
1:26PM ( 1 hour ago )
7 murder counts expected in Half Moon Bay farm killings
Prosecutors say they will charge a farmworker accused of killing seven people in back-to-back shootings at two Northern California mushroom farms with seven counts of murder and one count of attempted murder
12:51PM ( 1 hour ago )
The AP Interview: Pope says homosexuality not a crime
Pope Francis has criticized laws that criminalize homosexuality as “unjust,” saying God loves all his children just as they are
12:51PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP National News
Severe weather threat moves east after tornadoes hit Texas
A winter storm that brought severe weather to the Gulf Coast is heading east a day after tornadoes caused widespread damage and injured three people
11:20AM ( 3 hours ago )
Fatigue and despair build as California copes with massacres
California is reeling from three major mass shootings in just over a week
9:04AM ( 5 hours ago )
Prosecutors to Congress: Let state prisons jam cellphones
Top state prosecutors are urging Congress to pass legislation allowing state prisons to jam signals of cellphones smuggled to inmates
9:00AM ( 5 hours ago )
Top U.S. News short headlines
NRA sues over Illinois ban on semiautomatic weapons
A new federal lawsuit contends that Illinois’ two-week-old ban on semiautomatic weapons outlaws “ubiquitous” firearms in “radical” defiance of the Constitution’s Second Amendment
2:29PM ( 16 minutes ago )
Tax season already? Some tips for avoiding stress and scams
Tax season is here again
2:05PM ( 40 minutes ago )
Lawyer: Admins were warned 3 times the day boy shot teacher
An attorney says a Virginia teacher who was shot by a 6-year-old student during class plans to sue the school district
2:00PM ( 45 minutes ago )
Feds: Investigation into Tyre Nichols' death may take time
The U_S_ Attorney’s Office said Wednesday the federal investigation into the death of Tyre Nichols, a Black man who died after a violent arrest by Memphis police, “may take some time.”
1:47PM ( 58 minutes ago )
French troops to withdraw from Burkina Faso within a month
France’s foreign ministry says French troops deployed to fight extremists in Burkina Faso will withdraw within a month following a demand by the country’s military rulers — which came after a similar move from neighboring Mali
1:45PM ( 1 hour ago )