HALF MOON BAY -- A farmworker accused of killing seven people inwas charged Wednesday with seven counts of murder and one of attempted murder.
Chunli Zhao, 66, made his first court appearance Wednesday but did not enter a plea. His two attorneys appointed through the private defender program in San Mateo County did not immediately respond to calls and emails seeking comment.
Zhao's next appearance has been scheduled for Feb. 16, when he is expected to enter a formal plea. He was in court for just about five minutes, hiding his face behind a piece of paper for most of that time. He only spoke to confirm his name through an interpreter.
San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe handled the hearing personally and spoke to reporters outside the courthouse after the hearing.
Zhao has lived in the United States for at least a dozen years, Wagstaffe said, adding he had legal paperwork to live in the country at one time and investigators were determining whether it was still valid.
"He was cooperative with the sheriff's detectives who did the interview," Wagstaffe said. "It was done through an interpreter, a Mandarin interpreter, and my office was watching it from outside."
Wagstaffe said his office is now diving into the suspect's past, including a 2013 civil case in which a coworker asked for a restraining order - accusing Zhao of trying to suffocate him with a pillow and threatening him with a knife. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the two were roommates and worked at a restaurant, and the man filed a temporary restraining order against Zhao that was granted but is no longer in effect.
The DA's office requested no bail in the case due to the seriousness of the crime and Zhao being a flight risk as a Chinese national.
It was California's third mass shooting in eight days, includingin Los Angeles County amid Lunar New Year celebrations Saturday, and followed at a home in Tulare County in the Central Valley on Jan. 16. Officials discussing the investigation mentioned a possible gang link to the killings.
Just hours after the Half Moon Bay shooting,during a music video shoot at a gas station near Mills College.
Wagstaffe said the Half Moon Bay mass shooting was the largest in San Mateo County's history. As for the shooting investigation, there were several new pieces of information passed along.
"There was a note inside the car," Wagstaffe said. "We're not revealing that at this point. "The question was whether there is any evidence of a copycat of Monterey Park. We believe the answer is no. Not just simply we're not sure. We believe the answer is no.."
Wagstaffe went on to say his office believes that they know a motive in the shooting, but he wouldn't divulge that, saying the focus now is on the prosecution and keeping the details out of the public eye to ensure a fair trial. Sheriff's officials have said the shooting was workplace violence.
"That's why from this point on the sheriff's office will not be making public statements about the case," he told reporters. "It will all go through my office, and we're going to do it very limitedly for the reason that we want to make sure that this man gets a fair trial. But the victims' families get justice through a fair trial. And that the case gets tried here in the community, and which it was committed." The county coroner's office on Wednesday morning identified six of the seven victims in Monday's horrific mass shooting at two Half Moon Bay farms.
The victims were identified as:
- 50-year-old Moss Beach resident Marciano Martinez Jimenez
- 73-year-old San Francisco resident Zhishen Liu
- 74-year-old San Francisco resident Aixiang Zhang
- 64-year-old Half Moon Bay resident Jingzhi Lu
- 66-year-old Half Moon Bay resident Qizhong Cheng
- 43-year-old Yetao Bing (residence unknown)
- Jose Romero Perez (age and residence unknown)
The Mexican Consulate in San Francisco on Wednesday confirmed two of the deceased victims are Mexican nationals, as well as the only surviving victim of the attack. The surviving victim was identified in charging documents as Pedro Romero Perez.
More information about the victims of Monday's mass shooting in Half Moon Bay emerged Wednesday, including details about 50-year-old Marciano Martinez Jimenez.
According to a fundraising page set up by his brother, Jimenez had lived in Half Moon Bay for 25 years and worked at Concord Farms, the second farm targeted in the mass shooting.
Marciano was also a volunteer at RotaClinic. He's originally from Oaxaca, Mexico. His family is now trying to raise money to get Marciano's body back home to be buried with his parents.
A memorial in the park at the corner of Main Street and Kelly Avenue in downtown Half Moon Bay continued to grow Wednesday. People have stopped to pray, or just take a few quiet moments to reflect on the events of the past few days. A local florist brought by 70 bouquets of roses to leave at the memorial. Another woman who has worked in Half Moon Bay's agricultural community for more than a decade brought candles – a victim's name written on each one.
"They're not recognizable in the community. They're invisible without transportation and without resources. We didn't know their names in life and we should darn well know them in having lost them to serving us and serving our agricultural community," said Kati McHugh.
"They provide so much for us. It just hits home a little bit, because my dad and a lot of my uncles have been farm workers. And it kinda sucks that we can't even be safe at our jobs anymore," said Half Moon Bay resident Susy Gutierrez, who stopped by with flowers.
There is a vigil planned for Friday, January 27, at 5pm at the Mac Dutra Plaza. Everyone from the community is invited to attend.
CALIFORNIA MASS SHOOTINGS
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.
The charges 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, killed multiple people, and had a prior felony conviction. No additional details were provided on the prior felony.
Chunli Zhao charging document
Chilling new details emerged surrounding the killing of the seven farmworkers fatally shot by a fellow employee.
At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo joined Gov. Gavin Newsom and revealed some stunning details of the shooting.
"They were killed with purpose, with intent, execution style," Eshoo told reporters. "This community, California and the country is reeling from it."
Federico Nunez, whose ex-wife, Juana, works at Concord Farms, told KPIX she was able to escape the shooting unharmed.
Through an interpreter, Nunez said Juana was approached by a man she recognized as a former fellow employee as the workers were wrapping up their day.
He left and came back minutes later with a gun, killing her fellow workers. She told Nunez she believed she was left unharmed because she never had any issues with the man.
At a news conference Tuesday, San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus said that the only known connection between the alleged shooter and his victims is that "they may have been coworkers."
"All the evidence we have points to this being workplace violence," Corpus told reporters. "The Mountain Mushroom Farm, the first location, was where the suspect was employed."
"We remain shocked and grief-stricken over the senseless loss of four of our friends and long-time employees, and we pray for the team member that remains in critical condition," said California Terra Garden in a statement.
Dave Oates, a spokesman for California Terra Garden, confirmed to KPIX late Tuesday that Zhao once lived at the Mountain Mushroom Farm site for seven years and that California Terra Garden took over operations in March 2022.
Oates said there were three mobile homes and six trailers for employees on the premises. Many of the people who worked in the mushroom farms lived on site with their families in trailers and some of the children reportedly witnessed the violence. Those families have been temporarily relocated to area motels joining other farmworker families.
and Katie Nielsen contributed to this report.
HOW TO HELP:
The Farmworker Caravan, an organization that has been conducting a relief drive to provide support for farm workers impacted by recent flooding and the Half Moon Bay mass shooting, is asking for donations and volunteers to help with their efforts. More information and a sign-up page are available online here.
For more information on how to help the Half Moon Bay farming community, visit ALAS (Ayudando a Latinos a Soñar) at their website alasdreams.com.
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