() — The man suspected of killing four people at a California mushroom farm and three others at a nearby location on Monday legally possessed a semi-automatic firearm that was registered to him, San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus said.
The suspect, 66-year-old Chunli Zhao, was not on the radar of local authorities before the massacre and had shown no warning signs as far as the sheriff’s office was aware, the official told on Tuesday.
“There was nothing that would have alerted us or tipped us off to have any concerns with him at this time, prior to this incident,” the sheriff said. And she added that it was a case where someone “goes broke”, and “innocent people were killed”.
Zhao, arrested on Monday, will appear in court for an arraignment on February 16, after the judge decided to postpone the hearing on Wednesday, following a defense request. The suspect, who appeared in court behind glass in a separate area for inmates, covered his face with a yellow sheet of paper as he entered the courtroom. He will remain in custody without bail.
Agents found four people dead and one wounded at the mushroom farm Monday and moments later found three other people dead at another location about 2 miles away, according to authorities.
The attack was an “incident of workplace violence,” Corpus said, adding that Zhao was targeting specific people and, while he had the opportunity to injure others, he “went after and persecuted” certain individuals.
The suspect was a “co-worker or former co-worker” of the victims at each of the shooting locations, according to the sheriff’s office.
There are still many unanswered questions about the attack, including what may have prompted the shooting and why they were targeted.
This is what we know about the alleged perpetrator of the shooting.
He had already been accused of violence
Although authorities were unaware of “preceding factors” that would have suggested Zhao would carry out the attack, county officials said, it was not the first time he has been accused of violence against a co-worker, court records obtained by show.
Zhao was the subject of a temporary restraining order after a former co-worker and department colleague 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 statement that Zhao’s violent behavior began after the man resigned from that job in March 2013.
Two days later, early in the morning, Zhao entered Wang’s room and asked for his salary. When Wang told him to pick him up from the restaurant, Zhao said he would kill Wang, then “picked up a pillow and started covering my face and suffocating me,” Wang wrote.
“While he couldn’t (breathe), I used all my strength in 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 struggling in Wang’s bed before Zhao could calm down, according to Wang.
Two days later, he wrote, Zhao threatened him again, saying that he “could use a knife to cut off my head if I didn’t go back to work.” Wang had no control over Zhao’s employment status at the restaurant, she wrote.
A judge issued a temporary restraining order against Zhao, barring him from getting anywhere near Wang and barring him from owning or buying a gun, according to court documents. The restraining order expired in July 2013. A lawyer 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 daily San Francisco Chronicle.
The suspect lived on the property for 7 years.
Zhao lived on the first property, where four victims died, for about seven years, according to California Terra Garden spokesman David Oates. The site, formerly known as Mountain Mushroom Farm, was acquired by the California Terra Garden company in March 2022, Oates said.
Several mobile homes and employee trailers, which is where the suspect lived, are on the property, Oates added.
Zhao was one of about 35 employees working at the farm, the spokesman said, adding that standard background checks for all employees revealed “nothing to indicate something like this was even a possibility.”
An employee who did not want to be named told that he had known the suspect for about six years and considered him to be likeable and a “nice guy.” The two were coworkers at the farm and both had been working Monday, the employee said.
The employee took cover as the shooting began Monday and, as the shooting stopped, saw the suspect drive away on a forklift, he said.
He was stopped in a sheriff’s office parking lot.
Zhao, who authorities believe acted alone, was detained about two hours after authorities received the first reports of a shooting.
Deputies were dispatched to the site of the shooting shortly after 2:20 p.m. At approximately 4:40 p.m. local time, the suspect was taken into custody after authorities found him in his vehicle in the parking lot of the Half Police Substation. Moon Bay, the sheriff’s office said in a news release.
A gun was also found in his car, added the statement.
— ‘s Jeff Winter contributed to this report.