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Half Moon Bay shooting suspect could face 7 murder charges, death penalty

An FBI agent walks out of Mountain Mushroom Farm on Jan. 24, 2023, the location of the first of two deadly shootings near Half Moon Bay that left seven dead. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

A man accused of gunning down coworkers in a pair of attacks that killed seven and injured another could face a litany of murder charges and even the death penalty, San Mateo County prosecutors said Tuesday.

The rampage unfolded Monday at two rural locations in Half Moon Bay, including a mushroom farm where suspected shooter Chunli Zhao worked. Authorities said the shootings killed five men and two women—their names have not been released.

Zhao, a 66-year-old Half Moon Bay resident, was arrested in the parking lot of a police substation after the shootings Monday. A search of his car turned up a semi-automatic handgun that was legally owned and purchased, authorities say.

Zhao was booked on suspicion of seven counts of first-degree murder, one count of first-degree attempted murder and firearm enhancements.

Zhao is expected to face seven murder charges when he is arraigned Wednesday afternoon, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe told The Standard. Zhao is also likely to face a special circumstance enhancement for allegedly killing multiple people, which would make him eligible for life in prison and the death penalty. 

The Mountain Mushroom Farm near Half Moon Bay | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

The first shooting began at the Mountain Mushroom Farm at around 2:20 p.m. on the 12700 block of San Mateo Road, where deputies found four dead and a fifth person wounded. The second shooting left three dead soon after near 2100 Cabrillo Highway South.

At a morning press conference Tuesday, San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus said that Zhao worked at the Mountain Mushroom Farm.

All of the victims were his coworkers or former coworkers, authorities said.

“All of the evidence we have points to this being an instance of workplace violence,” Corpus said.

Authorities are still identifying the victims and notifying their families, which has been challenging because some of the victims come from migrant families, Corpus said.

Chunli Zhao | Courtesy San Mateo Sheriff's Department

Zhao is set to appear in court at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.

“Cases like this, we’ve never had one in this county of this many deaths at one scene or one time,” Wagstaffe said at a press conference. “It was a very hectic scene.”

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