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Half Moon Bay shooting: Massacre fueled by simmering tensions among farmworkers, sources say

Robert Salonga and Jakob Rodgers, The Mercury News on

Published in News & Features

HALF MOON BAY, Calif. — The shooting massacres at two coastal mushroom farms earlier this week were apparently fueled by the suspected gunman’s mounting frustrations with his job conditions and simmering tensions with other colleagues, a law enforcement source told the Bay Area News Group.

As a clearer motive emerged Thursday, the state’s labor watchdog agencies announced investigations into working conditions at the farms, which have become a focus of attention in the wake of the shootings.

Chunli Zhao, 66, apparently had enough with his purported mistreatment Monday and responded by fatally shooting four people and wounding another at California Terra Garden farm, where he worked. He then drove three miles south to Concord Farms — which once employed him — and killed three more farmworkers.

The law enforcement source, who is close to the shooting investigation, also cited eyewitness accounts affirming that Zhao methodically selected his victims and ignored other people who unwittingly got in his way during the rampage.

Zhao reportedly relayed a similar narrative in a jailhouse interview with NBC Bay Area at the Redwood City jail where he is being held on seven counts of murder and one of attempted murder, with numerous sentencing enhancements attached to each charge that stand to put him in prison for life if he is convicted.

In the television report, which recounted an off-camera, Mandarin language interview with Zhao, he reportedly admitted to the shootings and described being fed up with long hours at the farm and bullying by his co-workers. The law enforcement source who spoke to this news organization said the final straw might have been an insult about his “diminutive” size, which occurred not long before the shootings.


Elected officials decried the apparent squalor in which Zhao and his colleagues lived and worked. County Supervisor Ray Mueller toured California Terra Garden on Thursday and called the living conditions “deplorable” and “heartbreaking.”

“No running water. Outdoor stoves to cook,” Mueller wrote in remarks accompanying photos he posted on Twitter. “I spoke with one farm worker today who said she slept with flood waters from the storms on the floor in her unit.”

The supervisor’s photos showed one-room, uninsulated dwellings with plywood floors and patchwork walls with large holes. One had a concrete stove apparently heated by firewood. A child’s tricycle could be seen outside another of the quarters.

“We must raise the quality of life of farm workers, NOW,” Mueller wrote.


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