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$100 repair bill put Half Moon Bay suspect over the edge, prosecutor says

FBI officials walk past the trailers used to house workers at one of the two mushroom farms in Half Moon Bay, Calif., where seven people were shot and killed this month. (Aaron Kehoe/AP)
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More details have emerged about the workplace dispute that led Zhao Chunli, 66, to allegedly kill seven people and attempt to kill another at two mushroom farms in Northern California a week ago.

Zhao told investigators that his Half Moon Bay shooting was sparked after his boss asked him to pay a $100 repair bill for damage that had been done to heavy construction equipment, according to local news reports confirmed by San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.

After confronting his supervisor and a co-worker, whom Zhao thought were responsible for the collision between his forklift and a bulldozer, he allegedly shot them, according to reports confirmed by Wagstaffe.

Zhao admitted in a local media interview that he had committed the attacks and regretted them. He used a legally purchased Ruger semiautomatic handgun during the shootings, according to authorities.

The Half Moon Bay shooting has brought attention to the poor working conditions of farmworkers in the area.

The Washington Post reported that workers were living in trailers or converted shipping containers, with a lack of access to indoor kitchens or toilets. Over the past two years, there had been a series of problems, including a prior shooting, a fire and a coronavirus outbreak.

Zhao had felt bullied for years at the California Terra Garden farm, he said in Mandarin in a jailhouse interview last week with reporter Janelle Wang of KNTV. He worked long hours, Wang said, and when he voiced complaints to his supervisor, he often felt ignored. Prosecutors said Zhao had previously worked at Concord Farms, the second location he targeted.

Wang said that Zhao believes he has a mental illness and needs to see a doctor.

On Jan. 24, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) spoke passionately about stricter gun control in the wake of the Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay shootings across California. (Video: Reuters)

Zhao had exhibited workplace rage before. In 2013, he was accused of threatening a co-worker and separately tried to suffocate him, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, citing court documents.

Zhao, a Chinese national, said in the KNTV interview that he was a holder of a green card who had lived in the United States for 11 years. The farm employs mostly Chinese and Latino workers, a local official said.

Zhao has been charged with seven counts of murder and one count of attempted murder. If convicted of all charges, Zhao could face life in prison or the death penalty, Wagstaffe told reporters Wednesday outside the courthouse in Redwood City, Calif.

The victims of the shooting were Zhishen Liu, 73; Qizhong Cheng, 66; Marciano Martinez Jimenez, 50; Yetao Bing, 43; Aixiang Zhang, 74; Jingzhi Lu, 64; and Jose Romero Perez, 38, according to the San Mateo Coroner’s Office.

The attempted murder charge against Zhao is for the case of Pedro Romero Perez, the person who was shot and injured.

More on the California shootings

The latest: California has grappled with two mass killings in three days. A weekend shooting at a dance studio in Monterey Park left 11 people dead, and seven people were killed in related shootings at two locations around Half Moon Bay.

The victims: The identified Monterey Park shooting victims include a “loving aunt” and a joyful dancer. The people killed in the gunfire were all in their 50s, 60s and 70s, police said. Authorities have not released the victims’ identities in the Half Moon Bay shooting.

The suspects: Police identified the Monterey Park suspect as Huu Can Tran, a 72-year-old man of Asian descent, who was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound Sunday. Authorities arrested 67-year-old Zhao Chunli in connection with the Half Moon Bay shootings. He admitted to the shooting rampage at two farms and said he was bullied.

The weapon: Officers have described three guns they linked to the Monterey Park attacker: A rifle found in his home, a handgun recovered from his van and what they said was a modified semiautomatic taken away at the second dance studio. In the Half Moon Bay shootings, authorities recovered a semiautomatic handgun from the vehicle the suspect was located in. California’s gun laws are some of the strongest in the nation.