The man suspected of killing four people at a California mushroom farm and three others at a nearby site had legal possession of a semi-automatic weapon that was registered to him, San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus said.
The suspect, who authorities identified as 66-year-old Chunli Zhao, was not known to local law enforcement before the massacre and had shown no red flags as far as the sheriff’s office was aware, Corpus told CNN Tuesday morning.
“There was nothing that would have kind of elevated or raised us to have any concern with him at this time, prior to this incident,” the sheriff said.
This was a case, the sheriff continued, where someone “snaps,” and “innocent people were killed.”
Officers found four people dead and one person wounded at the mushroom farm and, moments later, found three more people dead at a separate site about two miles away, officials said.
The sheriff has described the attack as a “workplace violence incident,” saying Zhao targeted specific people and, though he had the opportunity to hurt others, “he went after and pursued” certain individuals.
The sheriff’s office described the suspect as a “co-worker or former co-worker” of the victims at each shooting site.
Zhao is expected to appear in court for an arraignment Wednesday afternoon, San Mateo County Chief Deputy District Attorney Sean Gallagher said.
There are many questions still unanswered about the attack, including what could have motivated the shooting, who the victims were and why they were targeted.
But here’s what we know about the suspected gunman.
County officials said authorities did not know “preceding factors” that would have suggested Zhao would carry out the attack.
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 that job 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 I couldn’t (breathe), I used all my might within the few seconds to push him away with my blanket,” Wang wrote. He said he called for help and another roommate came to the door, but Zhao had allegedly 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 “he can use a knife to cut my head if he can’t come back to work.” Wang wrote 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 banned him from owning or buying a gun, according to the court paperwork. The restraining order expired in July 2013. An attorney for Zhao in the 2013 complaint did not respond to requests for comment and Wang could not be reached for comment.
The incident was first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.
Zhao lived at the first property, where four victims were killed, for about seven years, according to California Terra Garden spokesperson David Oates.
The site, formerly known as Mountain Mushroom Farm, was acquired by the company California Terra Garden in March 2022, Oates said.
There are several mobile homes and trailers for employees on the property, which is where the suspect lived, Oates added.
Zhao was one of about 35 employees working at the farm, the spokesperson said, adding that in the background checks all employees have to go through, there was “nothing to indicate anything like this was even a possibility.”
An employee who did not want to be named told CNN he had known the suspect for about six years and had considered him to be friendly and a “nice guy.” The two were coworkers at the farm and had both been working Monday, the employee said.
The employee told CNN he took cover when the shooting began and when the gunfire stopped, he saw the suspect drive away from the scene on a forklift.
Zhao, who authorities believe acted alone, was arrested roughly two hours after authorities received the first reports of a shooting.
Deputies were dispatched a little after 2:20 p.m. local time. At roughly 4:40 p.m., the suspect was taken into custody after authorities found him in his vehicle at the parking lot of the Sheriff’s Office Half Moon Bay Police Substation, the sheriff’s office said in a news release.
A weapon was also found in his car, the release added.
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