HALF MOON BAY, Calif. (KGO) — 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.”
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.
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.
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.
Investigators say Zhao had a lot of built-up anger towards his co-workers, and that all eight of his victims were intentionally targeted.
It is still unclear if the anger was a known issue between Zhao and his co-workers or if it was an isolated incident that escalated.
They also said that the eight victims were intentionally targeted.
VIDEO: Half Moon Bay mass shooting suspect targeted victims, had built up anger, investigators say
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
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 “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.
Newsom calls out gun control opponents after HMB mass shooting
On Tuesday, Governor Gavin Newsom held a news conference in Half Moon Bay in wake of this tragic shooting calling on lawmakers to take action on gun reform at the federal level.
“I’m still waiting for Kevin McCarthy, the leader of the House of Representatives… We haven’t heard one damn word from him. Not since Monterey Park. Not what happened here. Not one word,” he said.
Newsom said he met with Chinese farmworkers who heard the gunshots. Speaking through a translator, they said it was hard to comprehend what was happening, he said.
“They had never heard a sound like that,” he said.
The shooting was likely to leave some in the community fearful and searching for other work, he said.
“The trauma and the damage, the devastation, is felt for generations in some cases, communities being torn asunder no one feeling safe,” Newsom said.
ABC7 News reporters J.R. Stone and Anser Hassan and Amanda del Castillo contributed to this report.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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