Friday, June 14, 2024

Half Moon Bay shootings: Gunman kills 7 people in the second California massacre in 3 days

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HALF MOON BAY, Calif. — 

At least seven people were killed in a pair of related shootings that have rocked the beach-side community of Half Moon Bay, an act of violence that comes just two days after 11 people were killed in another mass shooting in Monterey Park.

A 67-year-old resident of the community is suspected of opening fire at two rural locations about a mile distant, shooting some of the victims in front of children who lived nearby and had recently been released from school.

“This kind of shooting is horrific; it’s a tragedy we hear about too often,” San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus said. “For children to witness this is unspeakable.”

The suspect, believed to be a worker at one of the nearby farms or nurseries, was arrested about two hours after the shootings while sitting in a parked car at a sheriff’s substation.

The victims are also believed to be workers at nearby farms, officials said.

Deputies with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office first found four victims shot to death in the 12700 block of San Mateo Road in an unincorporated area of the county just before 2:30 p.m. A fifth victim was also found in the area and taken to Stanford Medical Center with life-threatening injuries, the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement to The Times.

Minutes later, in an area about a mile away, in the 2100 block of Cabrillo Highway, deputies found three more victims dead of apparent gunshot wounds.

Corpus said the suspect was believed to have driven from one location to the next, shooting the unidentified victims at each site.

The motive for the shootings is still unknown, sheriff’s officials said in a statement.

The shooting suspect, identified as Chunli Zhao, was spotted sitting in his car at the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office substation in Half Moon Bay at about 4:40 p.m., officials said.

Video from ABC 7 showed deputies taking a man to the ground in the parking lot. The man was wearing a white cap, vest and red long-sleeve shirt.

The weapon believed to have been used in the incident, a semiautomatic handgun, was found inside his car.

“With no past knowledge of this gunman or his motives, we are shook and very eager to gain more information from the authorities and their investigations,” said Aaron Tung, the principal of Concord Farms, in a statement to The Times. Concord Farms operates the mushroom farm on Cabrillo Highway where one of the shootings took place.

“Our hearts,” Tung added, “are with the victims, their families and the Chinese American community — from Half Moon Bay to Monterey Park.”

Belinda Hernandez-Arriaga is founder and executive director of the San Mateo County nonprofit Ayudando Latinos a Soñar, which is based in Half Moon Bay. The organization works with farmworkers there. She said the ALAS team, which provides educational, mental health and social services, was on the Mountain Mushroom Farm, near one of the shooting sites, about an hour before the violence occurred. She said there are Spanish- and Mandarin-speaking farmworkers there.

“Our farmworkers give so much to us,” she said, “and to see this violence happening is just a tragedy.”

Hernandez-Arriaga was at the family reunification center, set up by the Sheriff’s Office on Main Street in Half Moon Bay, on Monday night, working to help those affected.

“We are all here waiting to hear together who were the victims,” she said, noting “the impact this is going to have on our lives.”

“Our little town,” she said, “has always been so safe and so protected.”

San Mateo County Supervisor Ray Mueller was also at the center Monday night. Mueller said he was a witness to one family finding out that their relative was among those killed. He estimated that, as of 7:30 p.m., there were 30 to 40 people at the center, many seeking counseling.

California has experienced three mass shootings in less than two weeks: the killing of six people at a home in Goshen, Calif., the Monterey Park massacre at a dance studio, and now the Half Moon Bay incident.

“This is tragic on multiple levels,” said San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa. Noting that the victims were Chinese farmworkers, he said it was “horrific that it’s a Lunar New Year [and] you have people massacred both in Monterey Park and in the Half Moon Bay area. We should be celebrating, but instead we find ourselves — because of gun violence — burying innocent people.”

“Gun violence in this country has hit unacceptable levels,” said San Mateo County Board of Supervisors President David Pine, acknowledging the tragedy that occurred in Monterey Park on Saturday. “Our hearts are broken.”

The Half Moon Bay shootings rank among the deadliest in the San Francisco Bay Area, topped in recent memory only by the 2021 incident when a worker for the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority shot and killed nine co-workers at a light rail yard.

Monday’s killings brought condemnation from California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who said on Twitter: “Tragedy upon tragedy.” President Biden said through his spokesperson that federal authorities were offering assistance.

Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park) noted the scale of violence to hit California: “Two hours ago I joined my colleagues on the Capitol steps for a vigil for the victims of the shooting in Monterey Park,” he said on Twitter. “Before we’ve even had a chance to mourn them, there is yet another mass shooting — this time in Half Moon Bay. In my district.”

Officials said that the suspect was cooperating with detectives and that they hoped to have a better sense of what happened soon.

“This is a devastating tragedy for this community and the families touched by this unspeakable act of violence,” Corpus said.

Many in the rural region south of San Francisco were trying to come to terms with what happened.

“We don’t have any idea what was the motive. All I know is that if someone can kill someone, they’re not well,” Hernandez-Arriaga said.

Times staff writers Rong-Gong Lin II, Luke Money and Christian Martinez contributed to this report.

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