7 killed in shooting in Half Moon Bay, California

By Amir Vera, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Leinz Vales, Elise Hammond and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 7:27 p.m. ET, January 25, 2023
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6:50 p.m. ET, January 24, 2023

Suspect in Half Moon Bay shooting was previously accused of trying to suffocate former coworker 

From CNN’s Casey Tolan and Curt Devine

Nearly a decade before he allegedly went on a killing spree at two Northern California mushroom farms, the suspected gunman was accused of trying to suffocate and threatening to murder a former coworker at another job.

Police say Chunli Zhao fatally shot seven people, including some of his fellow employees, at two mushroom farms on Monday. But it wasn’t the first time he was accused of violence against someone he worked with, court records obtained by CNN show. 

Zhao was subject to a temporary restraining order after a former coworker and roommate accused him of attacking and threatening him in 2013. 

Yingjiu Wang, who worked with Zhao at a restaurant and lived with him in a San Jose apartment, wrote in a court declaration that Zhao’s violent behavior started after Zhao quit his job at their shared workplace in March 2013. 

Early in the morning two days later, Zhao came into Wang’s room and asked for his salary. When Wang told him to pick it up at the restaurant, Zhao said he would kill Wang, and then “took a pillow and started to cover my face and suffocate me,” Wang wrote.

While he couldn't breathe, Wang wrote, “I used all my might within the few seconds to push him away with my blanket."

He said that he called for help and another roommate came to the door, but that Zhao had locked it. The two men ended up wrestling on Wang’s bed before Zhao calmed down, according to Wang.

Two days later, he wrote, Zhao threatened him again, saying that “he can use a knife to cut my head if he can’t come back to work.” Wang wrote that he had no control over Zhao’s work status at the restaurant. 

A judge issued a temporary restraining order against Zhao, which prevented him from getting too close to Wang and also banned him from owning or buying a gun, according to the court paperwork. The restraining order expired in July 2013.  

The incident was first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.

An attorney for Zhao in the 2013 complaint did not respond to requests for comment. Wang could not be reached for comment. 

6:42 p.m. ET, January 24, 2023

FBI offering investigative support and help for victims after Half Moon Bay shooting

From CNN's Cheri Mossburg

The FBI sent in technical and forensic support to assist the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office to assist in their investigation of the mass shooting.

“We are now transitioning to providing victim services, and are in the process of identifying resources to help victims of this mass casualty event,” said Robert Tripp, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s San Francisco field office.

Tripp was speaking at a news conference Tuesday in Half Moon Bay.

6:30 p.m. ET, January 24, 2023

Sheriff: 5 men and 2 women killed by gunman in Half Moon Bay mass shooting

San Mateo Sheriff Christina Corpus
San Mateo Sheriff Christina Corpus (CNN)

San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus clarified that five men and two women were killed by the gunman in Half Moon Bay shootings.

One man who was also shot is in stable condition in hospital, she said during a news conference Tuesday.

Earlier, officials had reported the victims comprised seven men and a woman, one of whom was hospitalized.

"What happened yesterday in this community is devastating," Corpus said, adding that the epidemic of gun violence needs to end.

Earlier, the sheriff's office noted that the 66-year-old suspect was an employee at the mushroom farm where one of the incidents occurred, and evidence points to it being an instance of workplace violence. The victims were of Asian and Hispanic descent and possible coworkers, officials said.

6:20 p.m. ET, January 24, 2023

NOW: Gov. Newsom and San Mateo sheriff's department hold news conference on Half Moon Bay mass shooting

The San Mateo County sheriff's department and California Gov. Gavin Newsom are holding a news conference on the Half Moon Bay mass shooting.

5:04 p.m. ET, January 24, 2023

Suspect in Half Moon Bay mass shooting lived at one of the locations where people were killed, company says

From CNN’s Casey Tolan

The gunman in a shooting that left a total of seven people dead over two locations in Half Moon Bay, California, lived at the property where four of the victims were killed, according to a company spokesperson.

The site, formerly known as Mountain Mushroom Farm, was acquired by a company called California Terra Garden in March 2022, spokesperson David Oates, told CNN.

There are three mobile homes and six trailers for employees on the property, and the suspected gunman, Chunli Zhao, lived there since at least then, the spokesperson said.

Zhao started working at the farm prior to Terra Garden acquiring it, and was one of about 35 employees, according to Oates.  

“Everyone had background checks, and there was nothing to indicate anything like this was even a possibility,” he said. 

The farm grows mushrooms and “other food-grade herbs like basil, oregano, those kind of things… predominantly mushrooms sold on the retail and wholesale side,” Oates said.  

The owners of the farm are bringing in grief counselors for all the employees, Oates said. “Their goal right now is to try to bring everybody together to start a long healing process. They look at team members more like family,” he said. 

6:00 p.m. ET, January 24, 2023

A gunman killed 7 people in Half Moon Bay, California. Here's what we know about the mass shooting

From CNN staff

Law enforcement officials investigate a property following a mass shooting on January 23 in Half Moon Bay, California.
Law enforcement officials investigate a property following a mass shooting on January 23 in Half Moon Bay, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Seven people were killed and one person critically injured Monday in shootings at two separate locations in a small coastal community in the San Francisco Bay area, becoming the state’s second mass shooting in three days, officials said.

Chunli Zhao, the 66-year-old suspect, was taken into custody more than two hours after the shootings in Half Moon Bay, according to San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus.

The San Mateo County victims were either Asian or Hispanic, Corpus said.

The killings mark California’s second massacre in three days involving Asian American victims and suspects. 

Here's what we know about the deadly shooting:

  • The victims: Seven people were killed and one was injured in the shootings in Half Moon Bay. The only known connection between the victims and the suspect is that some may have been coworkers, Corpus said at a news conference Tuesday. Officers found four people dead and one person wounded at a mushroom farm. Moments later, three more people were found dead near a trucking facility about two miles away, officials said. Five men and two women were killed while a surviving male was taken to the hospital and is out of surgery and stable. The victims were either Asian or Hispanic, they said.
  • The suspect: Zhao was an employee of the mushroom farm, where four people were killed Monday, Corpus said. “All of the evidence we have points to this being the instance of workplace violence,” the sheriff said.
  • The investigation: The suspect will be arraigned Wednesday, according to San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe. The charges have not yet been determined and that decision will be made later Tuesday or Wednesday morning. Wagstaffe noted that "obviously" the charges will involve the homicides that took place. The semi-automatic handgun was legally purchased and owned, authorities said. A motive is still being investigated.

  • Community response: The Half Moon Bay killings mark California’s second massacre in three days involving Asian American victims and suspects. And state-wide, 19 people were slaughtered in three mass shootings in just 44 hours: 11 people were killed after a gunman opened fire at a dance studio in Monterey Park, near Los Angeles; seven people were killed in the Half Moon Bay area and one person was killed and seven others wounded Monday evening in Oakland. Stop AAPI Hate released the following statement in response to the mass shootings in Half Moon Bay and Monterey Park: “There is no way to describe the overwhelming loss of life that has taken place over the past few days, and its impact on the Asian American community, the Latino community, the farmworker community and the communities of Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay. We are in mourning. Our immediate priorities involve supporting victims and communities through our local coalition members."

 Read more about the investigation here.

The post was updated with new details on the gender breakdown of the victims.

3:45 p.m. ET, January 24, 2023

Employee of Half Moon Bay mushroom farm recounts attack – and how suspect fled scene on forklift 

From CNN’s Jeff Winter

Law enforcement personnel work at the scene of shooting at Mountain Mushroom Farm on January 24.
Law enforcement personnel work at the scene of shooting at Mountain Mushroom Farm on January 24. (Aaron Kehoe/AP)

An employee of a California mushroom farm where a gunman shot and killed four people Monday described how he ran for cover with other workers as the assailant opened fire and then fled the scene on a forklift. 

“I'm still scared and trying to figure out what happened," said the witness, who asked not to be named because of the ongoing police investigation. “I don't understand.”

The witness told CNN he had known the suspect, identified by law enforcement as 66-year-old Chunli Zhao for about six years, as they were coworkers. He had considered him “very friendly” and “a nice guy,” and added that he had no idea of what might have prompted the fatal assault or “what was his problem with these guys,” referring to the victims.

The employee said Tuesday that when he heard gunshots ring out he tried to hide with several of his co-workers, worrying that the gunman might start coming for them. 

He said he ran to one victim outside of a greenhouse but noticed how much he was bleeding and realized "it was too late.”

Investigators later found another victim inside the greenhouse, he added, saying both victims were Chinese men.

After the gunfire ended, the witness said he saw the suspect drive off on a forklift.  

Roughly two dozen people work at the farm, according to the witness. About a half dozen are Chinese and the rest are Latino immigrants. He said the two groups did not speak one another’s language and communicated through hand gestures or a translator.

2:20 p.m. ET, January 24, 2023

California governor will visit Half Moon Bay in wake of deadly shooting

From CNN's Cheri Mossburg

California Gov. Gavin Newsom will visit Half Moon Bay to meet with family members of the seven people killed in the latest deadly mass shooting, according to his office.

Newsom met with families and victims of the Monterey Park mass shooting on Sunday and Monday.

2:49 p.m. ET, January 24, 2023

Witness describes moment she realized the Half Moon Bay shooting suspect parked next to her car

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy

Police officers detain a man, believed by law enforcement to be the Half Moon Bay mass shooting suspect, in Half Moon Bay, California, on January 23.
Police officers detain a man, believed by law enforcement to be the Half Moon Bay mass shooting suspect, in Half Moon Bay, California, on January 23. (Courtesy Kati McHugh)

When police in Half Moon Bay announced a news conference about a mass shooting in the area, Kati McHugh decided to attend, not expecting that she would witness the arrest of the suspect — or that the suspect would park his vehicle next to her own.

McHugh recalled seeing police cars, fire trucks — every first responder — driving fast down the roads on Monday. It was her first indication that something was happening in the northern California community. 

She and a few others, including members of the press, were milling around in the parking lot before the news conference was set to take place at a San Mateo County sheriff’s substation.  

She said she remembered seeing the suspect's maroon SUV drive into the parking lot. Even though she knew police were searching for a maroon SUV, it didn't even occur to her it could be that vehicle. 

The suspect's driving in the parking lot did catch her attention — he had stopped short at one point — but she said he eventually parked the car. It was in the space next to hers. 

McHugh went back to her car and then a number of police officers came out from a building and told her to move away.

That's when she began to realize what was going on. 

A photojournalist near her car took a knee; McHugh backed away and took cover behind a tree. 

"I thought a tree was a good option," she said as she took a video of the arrest of the suspect that was shared widely.

The footage shows officers with their weapons drawn approaching the vehicle, the suspect emerge and the officers pulling him to the ground and handcuffing him. Police vehicles race into the parking lot and surround the scene. The second video shows police walking the handcuffed suspect toward the substation.