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Half moon bay shootings: Mexican, Chinese consulates confirm deaths

San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus addresses reporters outside the Sheriff’s Office Half Moon Bay Police Substation on Jan. 23, 2023 in Half Moon Bay. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

9:30 a.m., Jan. 25 | Mexican Nationals Among Victims

Three of the victims of Monday’s shootings were Mexican nationals, the country’s consulate confirmed Tuesday morning. Two of them died in the massacre, and the third is currently hospitalized.

9:25 p.m., Jan. 24 | Possible Motive Revealed

The man accused of gunning down eight people at two Half Moon Bay farms told investigators that he felt “disrespected” after being picked on by coworkers for years, NBC Bay Area first reported.

Police sources said alleged shooter Chunli Zhao, 66, sat in his vehicle in a sheriff’s substation parking lot with a handgun, ammunition and a “matter of fact” goodbye note when he was arrested.

The law enforcement officials told NBC Bay Area’s Jaxon Van Derbeken that in the note Zhao acknowledged the shooting and urged his wife to care for their adult child living in China.

Zhao could face a litany of murder charges and even the death penalty, San Mateo County prosecutors said.

The rampage unfolded Monday at two mushroom farms where suspected shooter Zhao had worked. The shootings killed five men and two women whose names have not been released. One man was injured and is hospitalized.

6:20 p.m., Jan. 24 | Local and State Officials Call for Stricter Gun Control

Joaquin Jimenez, vice mayor of Half Moon Bay, said that the shootings are the latest tragedy to befall marginalized farm workers already reeling from the pandemic and winter storms. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

During an emotional press conference after two mass shootings in Half Moon Bay which left seven dead, local and state officials called on stricter gun control laws and grieved for the community, a rural seaside town normally known for farms and festivals.

“Usually in this parking lot, we celebrate the pumpkin festival. Today, we are here for a different reason,” said Joaquin Jimenez, Half Moon Bay vice mayor and farmworker director for Ayudando Latinos A Soñar. “We never thought it was going to happen in our community. But it happened.”

Jimenez said he grieved for the town’s farm-worker community because the shooting is the latest tragedy on top of the recent flooding and the Covid pandemic, which have pummeled farmworkers in the region. Jimenez said that 98% of farmworkers suffer from mental health issues, and that many are forced to work into old age because of low pay.

“It’s been exposed how our farmworker community is living; the living conditions, let’s not ignore that. The mental health support they need, let’s not ignore that,” Jimenez said.

Assemblymember Phil Ting called for stricter gun control laws during a press conference. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Assemblymember Phil Ting joined Gov. Gavin Newsom in calling for stricter gun control laws in California, and said he was committed to making communities safer, although he did not mention specific policies.

“It is still way too easy for any individual to obtain a legal or illegal firearm in this state. That’s just a fact,” Ting said. “My colleagues and I at the state level, we’re going to be going back to work to really think about what else we can do to further protect the community in Half Moon Bay and really all of the communities up and down the state.”

Ting, who represents San Francisco’s western half, said that the timing of two mass shootings coinciding with the Lunar New Year is tragic.

“It’s a time of rebirth, to restart everything, and to have two horrific shootings in our state, one in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay, come on the heels of Lunar New Year, it’s unimaginable,” Ting said.

4:30 p.m., Jan. 24 | Gov. Decries ‘Weapons of War’

Gov. Newsom decried called for stricter gun control laws during his visit to Half Moon Bay, where he joined local officials for a late-afternoon press conference.

The governor lamented the recent spate of massacres in California and so many more in the rest of the nation: “Thirty-nine of these mass shootings, and we’re only at day 24 of the new year.”

He specifically decried the “weapons of war” and “large-capacity magazines” that kill so many people so quickly, saying they’re “No. 1 in gun ownership and No. 1 in gun deaths—it’s not even complicated.”

The speech included some harsh words about House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, with Newsom condemning his silence after back-to-back mass shootings.

“We haven’t heard a damn word from him—not since Monterey Park, not what happened here—not one word,” the governor said. “Where has he been on gun safety reform? Where has the Republican party been on gun safety reform? They blocked it every step of the way. One state can’t do it alone. Shame on them.”

12:09 p.m., Jan. 24 | FBI at Mushroom Farm

The FBI have been spotted at the Mountain Mushroom Farm where the suspected gunman 66-year-old Chunli Zhao of Half Moon Bay worked.

An FBI spokesperson said: “We continue to assist the San Mateo Sheriff’s Office with forensic, investigative and victim services resources.”

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

12:01 p.m., Jan. 24 | Sheriff: ‘Workplace violence’

At a morning press conference Tuesday, San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus said the suspect, 66-year-old Chunli Zhao of Half Moon Bay, worked at the first shooting location, Mountain Mushroom Farm.

Corpus said the victims were his coworkers.

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

Corpus said the semi-automatic handgun used in the attack was “legally purchased and owned.”

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

San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said Zhao will be arraigned Wednesday afternoon on homicide-related charges. Wagstaffe said the exact charges will not be determined until later Tuesday or early Wednesday.

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

10:51 a.m., Jan. 24 | Newsom to Visit

Gov. Gavin Newsom will travel to Half Moon Bay Tuesday to meet with victims’ families, local leaders and community members impacted by the devastating shootings yesterday that claimed seven lives, his office announced.

On Monday and Sunday, Gov. Newsom met with Monterey Park victims, their families, local officials and community members in the wake of the mass shooting this weekend that killed 11 victims and injured several others.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images | Source: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

10:12 a.m., Jan. 24 | ‘Holy shit, where are my kids?’

Nivarra Bretz, who has lived near Half Moon Bay her entire life, was waiting in traffic with a coworker on her way home from work in Los Altos when she saw a line of unmarked but flashing vehicles heading east along Highway 92.

That’s when she realized cars were stopped not just because of a sinkhole in the road that has been slowing down her commute since the early January rainstorms.

As she passed Spanish Town, Bretz saw multiple police officers with their large guns out.

Footage from Highway 92 on Jan. 23, 2023 after the Half Moon Bay mass shooting incident | Courtesy Nivarra Bretz

“We were surprised we were even allowed on [Highway] 92,” Bretz said. “It seemed like [the suspect] hadn’t been caught yet.”

Bretz then headed to Shoreline Station to pick up her daughter. Just around 20 minutes later, the shooter would be arrested in the same parking lot.

“The first thing was, ‘Holy shit, where are my kids?’” Bretz said. “It doesn’t happen here—ever.”

—Sarah Wright

7:40 a.m., Jan. 24 | Court Date Set

Chunli Zhao | Courtesy San Mateo Sheriff's Department

The alleged gunman, Chunli Zhao, 66, of Half Moon Bay, is scheduled to make his first court appearance on Wednesday. Zhao was apprehended outside the Half Moon Bay Police Substation Monday afternoon by Sheriff’s deputies.

7:32 a.m., Jan. 24 | Locals React to Horrific Events

Half Moon Bay’s bars and restaurants closed early Monday night after the shootings killed seven and injured one, a local bartender told The Standard.

Macey Morton, a bartender at Cameron’s Pub and Restaurant said the business locked its doors at around 3:30 p.m. after she had seen police cars along Highway 1 near the restaurant.

“It was scary. We were like, ‘What do we do?’” Morton said. “No one knew what was going on.”

Lisa Doyle outside Cameron's Pub and Restaurant in Half Moon Bay on Jan. 23, 2022. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Lisa Doyle, a Pacifica resident who was visiting Half Moon Bay in her RV, said
“I just think we gotta melt the guns. We wouldn’t have these issues if guns weren’t so accessible.”

“It happens everywhere. No place is safe, I guess,” said Bill Carl, a 25-year resident of Half Moon Bay. “I’m surprised it happened here.”

Phil Thoren, who moved to Half Moon Bay from Saratoga five years ago said he did so looking for a quiet place to live, and that the mass shooting Monday shattered the feeling of security he originally had in the sleepy seaside town.

Phil Thoren sits inside Cameron's Pub and Restaurant in Half Moon Bay on Jan. 23, 2022. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

“This kind of reset the table for me. You’re aware this can happen anywhere,” Thoren said. “This was a shock”

6:52 a.m., Jan. 24 | Biden Weighs In

President Joe Biden issued a statement about the Half Moon Bay shootings Tuesday morning. The president said that after a briefing with Homeland Security, he instructed his administration to give their “full support” to the Half Moon Bay community in the wake of the “heinous attack.”

Biden said that Sen. Dianne Feinstein, along with other senators, reintroduced a federal Assault Weapons Ban and legislation that would require purchasers of assault weapons to be 21.

5:50 a.m., Jan. 24 | California Mourns

Monday’s mass shooting marked the second in California in three days, following the Monterey Park shooting that took 11 lives and injured several over the weekend. There have been 39 mass shootings in the U.S. since the start of 2023, according to reports.

Officials and residents across the state mourned and called for action.

“We must end the senseless gun violence that has sadly stricken another community—this time in Half Moon Bay,” tweeted House Speaker Emeritus Nancy Pelosi.

Newly retired Rep. Jackie Speier asked, “When will Congress have the guts to really DO something about gun violence?”

6:30 p.m., Jan. 23 | Witnesses to the Shooting

Children and other workers were present at the scene of at least one of the shootings, Sheriff Christina Corpus said at a press conference Monday evening.

“For children to witness this is unspeakable,” Corpus said.

Officials said the suspect appeared to be a worker at a nursery in the area where one of the shootings took place.

5:45 p.m., Jan. 23 | Suspected Shooter Named

Local supervisor David Canepa posted a photo of the suspect to Twitter and identified him as Chunli Zhao. San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office later confirmed that Zhao, a 66-year-old Half Moon Bay resident, was the suspect.

The motive for the shooting is currently unknown.

4:40 p.m., Jan. 23 | The Arrest: Caught on Video

The arrest of the suspected shooter was captured on video and posted to Twitter by members of the media on the scene.

At the time of his arrest, the suspect was inside his vehicle in the parking lot of the Sheriff’s Office at the Half Moon Bay Police Substation.

2:22 p.m., Jan. 23 | Two Separate Shootings

Deputies said that at 2:22 p.m. Monday, they were dispatched to the 12700 block of San Mateo Road on Highway 92 in unincorporated San Mateo County on a report of a shooting with multiple victims.

Screenshot taken from Google Maps of approximate location of each shooting | Google Maps

Upon arrival deputies located four victims deceased with gunshot wounds. A fifth victim, also suffering from gunshot wounds, was transported to Stanford Medical Center with life-threatening injuries.

Shortly thereafter, three additional victims were also located, deceased with gunshot wounds at a separate shooting scene in the 2100 block of Cabrillo Highway South.