HALF MOON BAY, Calif. — A 67-year-old “disgruntled worker” shot and killed four people at a coastal farm and three more people at another farming business near the heart of Half Moon Bay on Monday afternoon, authorities said, marking the state’s second mass shooting focused on Asian Americans in the past two days.
Chunli Zhao, of Half Moon Bay, was arrested nearly two and a half hours after Monday’s shootings, which rocked the tranquil surfside community widely known for its Mavericks wave break and an annual pumpkin festival that draws thousands to the intersection of Highway 92 and Highway 1.
“I am offering my heartfelt condolences to the families of victims, the coastal community and the city of Half Moon Bay. This kind of shooting is horrific, and today it has hit home,” San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus said at a news conference Monday night.`
It was just off Highway 92, less than a mile east of the highway intersection, that sheriff’s deputies were called to Mountain Mushroom Farm around 2:20 p.m. Monday for a report of a shooting with multiple victims.
Deputies found four people, both male and female, dead from multiple gunshot wounds. A fifth shooting victim was still alive when found and was rushed to Stanford Medical Center with life-threatening injuries.
A short time later, deputies discovered a second shooting scene, this time about three miles south on Highway 1 near a series of farming businesses where three more people were found shot to death.
The second shooting occurred at Concord Farms at 2125 Cabrillo Highway South, according to Kathy Rice, one of the owners of neighboring Rice Trucking-Soil Farm.
“It’s shocking, absolutely shocking. Totally unexpected,” Rice said.
The three people who died at Concord Farms were all employees of the business, said an owner of the business, who asked not to be named. Among the dead was a manager who had worked at the small mushroom farm for 27 years.
The owner also said she did not recognize the name of the alleged gunman.
The slain employees were “good working people — they are so good,” the owner said, adding that “they were like our family.”
“This kind of thing should never happen, no matter where,” the owner said. “They are innocent. Nobody knows why this happened — why this guy came to our farm.”
There was no immediate sighting of a gunman, but the manhunt was over around 4:40 p.m. when a sheriff’s deputy spotted Zhao in his car in the parking lot of the Half Moon Bay sheriff’s substation and ordered him out of the vehicle. In an arrest captured on video, several deputies could be seen with guns drawn and as Zhao walked toward them with his hands up. The deputies quickly took him to the ground and subdued him. Zhao acted alone, the sheriff’s office said.
Kati McHugh, who described herself as a member of the local agricultural community, was at the substation for a news conference on the shooting when the suspect arrived and was quickly taken into custody by deputies.
“I was surprised to see (the suspect) here and of course hopeful that he came to turn himself in,” McHugh said. “It was shocking and I was very impressed with the way the officers took care of the takedown. It wasn’t in any way adding energy to the situation.”
“He was quiet,” McHugh said about the suspect. “He didn’t react much when he was taken down and it all happened pretty calmly.”
The devastation that has so far been blamed on Zhao soon became clear. Local elected officials and media reports stated that Zhao had been an employee at Mountain Mushroom Farm and that several of the dead were his co-workers. San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine told The Associated Press that Zhao was a “disgruntled co-worker.”
The sheriff’s office said in a statement that a weapon was found in Zhao’s car and that “there is no further threat to the community.” Corpus, the newly installed sheriff, called the shooting “a (devastating) tragedy for this community and the many families touched by this unspeakable act of violence.”
People who were displaced or separated from their loved ones as a result of the shootings were being tended to at a family reunification center set up at the IDES Hall at 735 Main St. in Half Moon Bay.
Grief and mourning filled the hall as members of the tight-knit community searched for answers and updates on the status of loved ones, according to witness accounts.
“There’s a lot of sadness. There’s grief (inside),” said Half Moon Bay resident Lizette Diaz, a volunteer with the nonprofit ALAS, which seeks to help those impacted by disaster. “We can hear people crying.”
As vehicles entered and exited the site, teenagers were often alongside their grieving parents, bringing perspective to the losses caused by the shootings.
“It’s palpable. It’s devastating (inside),” said ALAS volunteer Kate Shea. “I have four boys and I cannot imagine what those kids witnessed today.”
The pair of volunteers said the two shootings combined with the devastating effects of the recent storms have brought shock to the coastal community of about 11,000.
“I would never have thought something like this would happen in a small, close community. We’re all very close,” Diaz said. “We all know each other, we know our neighbors, we know people that work within our community. It was heartbreaking.”
Alejandro Lopez said one of the victims was a longtime friend and coworker.
“He was like my brother,” he said in Spanish to a Bay Area News Group reporter.
Lopez said he learned of the shooting from his wife when he got home and tried to call his friend, but he did not pick up. Another coworker told him that his friend had died.
“(I am feeling) bad, very bad,” Lopez said.
At a news conference Monday night, elected officials including San Mateo County Board of Supervisors President David Pine and Vice Mayor Joaquin Jimenez offered their condolences to those affected by the shooting and called for an end to gun violence.
“We grieve tonight for the deceased neighbors of our community,” Pine said. “It’s a horrific incident. Gun violence in this country is at really unacceptable levels, and it hit home tonight. Our hearts are broken. But in the end, there’s simply too many guns in this country and there has to be a change. This is not the way for a modern society to conduct its affairs.”
“This is something we get to watch on the news and I never thought it would hit home,” Jimenez said. “This should be an eye-opener for what’s going on in this community regarding gun violence.”
The mass shooting follows one Saturday in Monterey Park — in the Los Angeles area — that left 11 people dead, all of them Asian American.
“First Monterey Park and now Half Moon Bay. Enough is enough. How many more must die?” San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa said in a statement. “Although the details are sparse, one thing is true. The victims died from guns. My heart breaks for the families.”
Canepa said the county has pledged $2 million over the next two years to launch a gun violence prevention program. The program, he added, aims to improve public safety by “boosting efforts to remove guns from the hands of felons, stalkers and other people prohibited from firearm possession.”
Congresswoman Anna Eshoo said she was also monitoring the situation in Half Moon Bay.
“My gratitude to the San Mateo Sheriff’s Office who took the suspect into custody and are working the two scenes of the murders,” Eshoo said in a statement. “Half Moon Bay is a beloved and tight-knit community, and we all stand with them and the families of the victims during this dark hour.”
The Bay Area has seen a string of mass shootings in recent years, including its deadliest in May 2021 when a disgruntled mechanic killed nine people then himself at a Valley Transportation Authority light rail yard near the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office in San Jose.
Staff writers Austin Turner, Jakob Rodgers and Elissa Miolene contributed to this report.