Deadly Half Moon Bay incident was 2nd shooting at California Terra Garden in 7 months

ByABC7 News staff KGO logo
Friday, January 27, 2023
Deadly HMB incident was 2nd shooting at CA Terra Garden in 7 months
San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe the recent Half Moon Bay mass shooting was second shooting at California Terra Garden in 7 months.

HALF MOON BAY, Calif. -- As the shocked Half Moon Bay community continues to mourn the mass shootings that killed seven and seriously injured one other, new details are coming out about one of the locations of the tragedy.

San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said that California Terra Gardens, previously known as Mountain Mushroom Farm was the site of another shooting in July of 2022.

The DA says the suspect and the victim in that incident were both managers at the Half Moon Bay farm.

RELATED: What to know about the victims killed in the Half Moon Bay mushroom farms mass shooting

The two men lived in trailers on the farm and had ongoing work-related tensions between them.

The DA's office says the victim was in his home Friday, July 1 at 11:30 p.m. when he heard the suspect banging on his front door threatening to kill him and his family.

The suspect fired a gun through the victim's glass door.

Deputies later arrested the suspect who they say smelled of alcohol and denied shooting.

The July shooting and the most recent mass shooting involved different people and different circumstances, what they may have had in common was tension between employees at the farm.

Though an official motive in the most recent mass shooting has not been given by the district attorney, investigators say the suspect, 66-year-old Chunli Zhao was allegedly taunted with an offensive nickname that may have fueled his anger leading up to the attack.

MORE: There have been more mass shootings in US than days in 2023, database shows

Local leaders are now investigating the working and living conditions of the farms.

For now, as more details come in on what led up to the mass shootings and conditions on the farms, the main focus of locals continues to be helping one another and healing.

CA investigating conditions of HMB farmworkers following shooting

Governor Gavin Newsom's office says the state is now investigating the conditions of farmworkers following the Half Moon Bay mass shooting at two mushroom farms.

A spokesperson from Newsom's office tweeted a statement, saying the state is looking into the farms to ensure the "workers are treated fairly and with the compassion they deserve."

At a press conference on Tuesday, Gov. Newsom said he was told about the "deplorable" living and working conditions of the farmworkers at the locations involved in the shooting.

It was shared with him that farmworkers were being paid $9 an hour and living in shipping containers.

"Many workers have no choice but to tolerate the conditions provided to them by their employers," the Governor's Office statement said in part. "Our country relies on their back-breaking work, yet Congress cannot even provide them the stability of raising their families and working in this country without fear of deportation, which contributes to their vulnerability in the workplace. That is no way to live."

TAKE ACTION: Resources for people impacted by Half Moon Bay mass shooting

The spokesperson also tweeted that Cal/OSHA and the Labor Commissioner's office are investigating if there were any labor and workplace safety and health violations at the farms.

On Thursday, 40 farmworker families are waking up in a hotel for the third morning in a row, after being displaced from their homes on the farms.

"When people are asking, what can we do, we're reaching out to say, can you find a home?" Belinda Arriaga, founder of Half Moon Bay non-profit ALAS said. "Are there homes that can be rented to multiple families? Can we find compassionate landlords out there?"

Arriaga says their poor living conditions have been put in the spotlight because of Monday's shooting.

And while county officials say these families should be allowed to return to their homes on the farms by Friday, Arriaga says, let's not send them back to the same living conditions.

"More and more, our low-income community, especially our farmworker community has been pushed out of being able to afford rents and it pushes them into some substandard living conditions sometimes," she said. "It's outside life, right? Living in crowded quarters, and campers and trailers in muddy areas, no inside stoves. Just really tough and there are children there."

After an outpouring of support in Wednesday's emergency food and clothing drive for the 40 displaced families, which includes family members of shooting victims, Arriaga says they are no longer taking any physical donations, but instead directing people to monetary donations through their website here or food gift cards in-person at their Half Moon Bay location on 636 Purissima Street.

"Anything that we can do, we will use every dollar to make a difference," she said. "It takes a community to make change and it takes a community to heal."

City officials confirm they are directing all monetary donations to support victims of the shooting to go through the ALAS website.

Suspect charged in mass shooting

A farmworker accused of killing seven people in shootings at two Half Moon Bay mushroom farms has been charged with seven counts of murder. Prosecutors filed the charges Wednesday.

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.

Zhao covered his face with a yellow sheet of paper when he first entered the courtroom, and his hands were shaking and shackled.

A Mandarin language translator was used to deliver communications between the court and the suspect. Zhao will be held in custody without bail.

Outside of the courthouse, Wagstaffe explained that Zhao is being charged with seven counts of murder and one count of attempted murder. He says the charges were filed "in the manner in which the order of which we believe that they occurred."

HMB shooting suspect denied bail, no plea in 1st court hearing

The suspect in the Half Moon Bay mass shooting was charged with seven counts of murder and one count of attempted murder.

The maximum penalty for these charges would be life in prison or the death penalty.

Zhao is currently being held on no bail until his Feb. 16 arraignment.

Authorities believe Zhao acted alone when he entered a mushroom farm in Half Moon Bay and opened fire, killing four and leaving another seriously wounded, San Mateo County Sheriff's officials said. He then drove to another nearby farm where he had previously worked, and killed another three people, said Eamonn Allen, a sheriff's spokesman.

Who are the victims?

Officials have identified the seven victims killed:

Zhi Shen Liu, 73, of San Francisco

Marciano Martinez Jimenez , 50, of Moss Beach

Jose Romero Perez

Ai Xiang Zhang, 74, of San Francisco

Qi Zhong Cheng, 66, of Half Moon Bay

Ye Tao Bing, 43, residence unknown

Jing Zhi Lu, 64, of Half Moon Bay

The criminal complaint filed against Zhao also identified the surviving victim as Pedro Romero Perez.

Servando Martinez Jimenez said his brother Marciano Jimenez Martinez, 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," Jimenez Martinez said in Spanish.

VIDEO: Grieving families of Half Moon Bay shooting victims prepare to bring loved ones home to Mexico

The families of three Half Moon Bay shooting victims speak out as one described the feeling when they were told his brother has died.

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

The cousin of Jose Romero Perez says he leaves behind a wife and four children in Mexico. He says when he called the family to let them know he had been killed they were left in disbelief.

Jose worked at the Mountain Mushroom Farm with his younger brother Pedro who got him the job.

What we've learned about Chunli Zhao

Investigators tell ABC7's Stephanie Sierra that Zhao was a forklift driver at one of the farms for five to six years. He also lived at the farm, which is fairly common among the workers.

Several sources confirmed to the I-Team, the victims were killed execution-style in what's been described as an "intentional, gruesome attack."

Investigators say the 66-year-old suspect Chunli Zhao was allegedly taunted with an offensive nickname that may have fueled his anger leading up to the attack.

Detectives say Zhao targeted all eight victims intentionally as the fellow Asian and Latino farm workers were reportedly involved in an ongoing feud.

It is still unclear if it was an isolated incident that escalated to the event.

RELATED: What we know about Half Moon Bay mass shooting suspect Chunli Zhao

Investigators also mentioned concerns over a language barrier. Zhao spoke Mandarin while the other workers mostly spoke Spanish. It's not clear the role this may have played in the shooting.

San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe provided some more insight, saying that according to Zhao's statements, they do not believe it was a hate crime.

"He gave several hour-long statements last night in this building here, and while I won't go into the statement, I will say, it has alleviated for us, any thought that this was a hate crime," Wagstaffe said. "It was not a hate crime, this was simply as sheriff corpus said, a workplace dispute."

EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Watch moment police arrest suspect in deadly Half Moon Bay shootings

Video shows the moment police arrested the suspect who allegedly fatally shot seven people in Half Moon Bay on Monday.

Sources tell the ABC7 I-Team that after the shootings Zhao was reportedly found inside his car in the parking lot of the sheriff's office's Half Moon Bay police substation. Sources say the seat was reclined and the semi-automatic handgun was next to Zhao. The suspect allegedly tried to send his wife a text message saying something along the lines of "see you in the next life."

According to court documents obtained by the ABC7 News I-Team, Zhao once had a restraining order filed against him by a former coworker and roommate, who alleged that Zhao threatened him and even once tried to suffocate him with a pillow when he lost his job.

Friends of Half Moon Bay victims demand more for farmworkers

Flowers, candles, and signs. The memorial for the seven people that were killed in Half Moon Bay is growing. Those we talked with Wednesday night knew Marciano Martinez, one of the victims who like them, was also from Oaxaca, Mexico.

"We would say hi and sometimes we would just randomly talk about how our days were going and stuff like that, so it's just very sad for us to hear about his passing due to his event," said Lupe Contreras.

"He likes to play guitar and sometimes I think he plays in the church with other friends. It's just broken my heart and not just me but the entire town," said Karina Santiago.

The victims were Asian and Mexican migrants. Many of their family members are still waiting to go home, staying at hotels paid for by the mushroom farms where they live and work. County officials say that they should get to go home by Friday.

Those at California Terra Garden, formerly Mountain Mushroom Farm, where one of the shootings happened responded saying, "Shipping containers don't reflect what's on the property," going on to say workers live in mobile trailers or large RVs that have passed county inspections.

Also saying employee wages start at $16.50 and go to just over $20 an hour, with the farm charging around $300 for a family to live there.

Some we spoke with said they don't believe that.

"It's not true, a lot of people (farmworkers) live in poor conditions and nobody knows that. Those people don't feel comfortable to raise their voices to their employers," said Santiago to which we asked, "You said nobody is representing them and nobody standing up for them?" Her reply was simply, "Nobody!"

Sad to hear at a time when so many lives have been lost.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Get the latest on the deadly Half Moon Bay shootings here.