The 66-year-old man suspected of killing four people at a California mushroom farm and three others at a nearby site on Monday was a farm worker, San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus said Tuesday.
“All the evidence we have points to this being a case of workplace violence,” the sheriff said. “The only known connection between the victims and the suspect is that they may have been colleagues.”
The killings mark the second California massacre in three days involving Asian American victims and suspects. The San Mateo County victims were either Asian or Hispanic, Corpus said.
The United States has already suffered 39 mass shootings this month – more than any other start to the year on record.
In California, 19 people have been massacred in three shootings in just 44 hours:
• Eleven people killed after a gunman opened fire on a dance studio in Monterey Park, near Los Angeles;
• Seven people killed Monday in the Half Moon Bay region near San Francisco;
• One person killed and seven others injured Monday evening in Oakland.
Although the motives remain a mystery, the Half Moon Bay murders bear some similarities to the carnage in Monterey Park. This is where Huu Can Tran, 72, shot dead 20 people – killing 11 people – 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 average age of 33 for mass shootings, according to the Rockefeller Institute of Government.
In San Mateo County, suspect Chunli Zhao was taken into custody approximately two hours after the initial police call while parked at a sheriff’s substation with a semi-automatic handgun. automatic in his vehicle, the sheriff said.
“Some of the victims were Chinese, that the assailant was Chinese and they were from a farming community – they were farm workers,” Half Moon Bay Mayor Deborah Penrose said Tuesday.
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San Mateo County officers found four people dead and one person injured in a mushroom farm. Moments later, three more people were found dead near a trucking facility about two miles from Half Moon Bay, county officials said. Authorities identified those killed as five adult men and two adult women, adding that the injured person was a man who is being treated at a trauma center for his injuries.
Zhao was a “colleague or former colleague” of the victims at each shooting site, the sheriff’s office said in a news release.
That same night, even more bloodshed unfolded – this time in the Bay Area city of Oakland. One person was killed and seven others injured are in stable condition, police said.
The sheriff said the attack was “an incident of workplace violence” in which the suspect targeted specific people.
“We believe he had the opportunity to hurt other people, but he had targeted individuals that he was chasing and chasing,” Corpus told CNN’s Erica Hill and Jim Sciutto on Tuesday morning.
The suspect, who was not known to local law enforcement before the shooting, was in legal possession of a semi-automatic weapon registered to him, the sheriff said.
Prior to this week, the shooting suspect “wasn’t a red flag,” Corpus said. “There was nothing that could have uplifted or uplifted us to have concerns with him at that time, before this incident.”
The sheriff added that the attack highlights a need for discussion about mental health issues.
“It’s one of those issues where somebody snaps, unfortunately, and innocent people get killed,” the sheriff said.
“We just have to look at it from a multi-pronged approach, because it’s not just guns, it’s also people who have access to guns and people who have mental illness or mental stress,” she added.
A mushroom house worker still struggling to cope with the violence that unfolded told CNN he took cover when the suspect opened fire and then saw the shooter fleeing the places on a forklift.
“I’m still scared trying to figure out what happened,” said the employee, who asked not to be named due to the ongoing law enforcement investigation. “I don’t understand.”
The employee estimated that about two dozen people work on the farm. About half a dozen are Chinese while the rest are Latino immigrants and the two groups often communicate through hand gestures or a translator due to language barriers, he said.
The employee told CNN that he and Zhao were co-workers at the farm and both worked on Monday. He said he had known the suspect for around six years and considered him to be “very friendly” and a “nice guy”, adding that he did not know what could have triggered the attack.
When he heard gunshots, the witness said he tried to hide with several other colleagues, fearing the shooter would fire in their direction. The employee then ran to a victim outside a greenhouse, but saw how the individual was bleeding and realized “it was too late”.
When the gunfire stopped, the witness told CNN he saw the suspect drive away from the scene on a forklift.
California Governor Gavin Newsom was at a meeting at the hospital for injured victims of the Monterey Park shooting when he was “removed to be briefed on another shooting – this time in Half Moon Bay”, said he declared.
“Tragedy Upon Tragedy”, Newsom tweeted.
The governor will travel to Half Moon Bay on Tuesday to meet with the families of those killed in the San Mateo County massacre.
President Joe Biden reiterated his call for Congress to “act quickly” and ban assault weapons. “We know the scourge of gun violence across America requires stronger action,” he said in a statement Tuesday.
The mayor of Monterey Park, still stunned by his city’s massacre, offered his condolences to mourners in Half Moon Bay.
“I know what awaits them in the next few days,” Mayor Henry Lo said, offering support during their “long road to recovery.”
Owners of the San Mateo County mushroom farm had no knowledge of the shooter or his motive, they said.
“We are shaken and very eager to get more information from authorities and their investigations,” Concord Farms said in a statement to CNN. “Our hearts go out to the victims, their families and the Chinese-American community – from Half Moon Bay to Monterey Park.”
The Half Moon Bay community must come together to heal — and support each other to fight gun violence — said San Mateo County Supervisor Ray Mueller.
“There were farm workers affected tonight; there were children at the scene during the incidents. This is a truly heartbreaking tragedy in our community,” Mueller said.
Mueller spoke of the mental health toll the violence has taken in the community and urged people to seek help, especially as the city attempts to recover from the impact of the recent deadly floods that have engulfed the community. are spread over large swathes of the state.
“Please take advantage of the mental health crisis counseling that is available,” he said, adding that anyone can contact the county hotline. “You’re not alone.”
Half Moon Bay Vice Mayor Joaquin Jimenez also urged residents to seek mental health counseling.
“It’s something we can see on the news. Never think it’s going to come home knocking,” Jimenez said. “Today we’re making the news. Our community has been affected.
Correction: An earlier version of this story gave the wrong age for Chunli Zhao. He is 66 years old.