HALF MOON BAY, Calif. — One day after meeting with victims’ families mourning a shooting rampage in Southern California, Gov. Gavin Newsom traveled to the Northern California community of Half Moon Bay, where two shootings left seven people dead.
The suspected shooter is in custody and will be arraigned Wednesday in connection with the attacks at plant nurseries 30 miles south of San Francisco. The San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office said four people were found dead at the Mountain Mushroom Farm, where the suspect worked, and a fifth was taken to a hospital with life-threatening injuries. Three bodies were found at a second scene – a farm where the suspect used to work – a short time later.
The county coroner’s office was working to identify the victims, some of whom were migrants, and notify their next of kin. Sheriff Christina Corpus said on Tuesday the victims were five men and two women. A survivor was in stable condition at a hospital, she added.
Newsom expressed his dismay that he had to go from one community affected by a mass shooting to another one back-to-back and advocated for stronger gun control laws.
“Only in America do we see this kind of carnage, this kind of chaos, this kind of destruction of communities and lives,” Newsom said.
Earlier, in a moment of unfiltered emotion, Rep. Anna Eshoo, a Democrat, said the farmworkers were “killed with purpose, with intent execution style, and this state and country are reeling from it.”
After the briefing, Corpus didn’t speak directly about Eshoo’s comments, citing the ongoing investigation on Chunli Zhao, 66. But the sheriff did mention the need for increased awareness of mental health and wellness.
“It appears this person snapped and took measures into his own hands, and unfortunately innocent lives were lost,” Corpus said. “People lost their family members. It’s time for this to stop.”
The FBI said on Twitter that it was helping local law enforcement with the investigation.
All evidence points to the attack as an “instance of workplace violence,”Corpus said Tuesday. “Our hearts are broken, and we’re working together with the community to heal this tragic incident.”
Vice President Kamala Harris is also set to visit her home state Wednesday in the wake of the two shootings, the White House announced Tuesday as the Biden administration advances its plans for legislation to ban assault weapons. Harris will travel to Monterey Park, where 11 people were killed at a dance studio on Saturday.
HALF MOON BAY SHOOTINGS:7 dead in two related incidents in California; suspect arrested
Newsom made a strong push for more gun control on a federal level and said California would continue to be a leader in reform measures. He criticized Republicans, including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who represents California, for their opposition to gun control measures.
“We haven’t heard one damn word from him. Not since Monterey Park, not what happened here, not one word,” Newsom said.
Newsom said Republican lawmakers have blocked gun safety reform and judges have reversed efforts that states including California have passed.
“Shame on them,” he added.
County officials worked to provide counseling for grieving residents, Ray Mueller of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors told USA TODAY. He said the diverse, agricultural community was already reeling from three weeks of storms and flooding.
Mueller described the scene at the reunification center Monday as one of “shock and sadness,” but he praised residents for coming together to support the victims’ families.
“Late into the night, we had people coming, bringing blankets, supplies, and food,” he said. “The community is rallying around. The next thing we’re going to be doing is raising money for the lost wages for these families.”
A day after the killings at the mushroom farm, local resident Juan Martinez said he is still uneasy.
Martinez, a sales and maintenance manager at Spanish Town, an arts and crafts store in front of the farm where the fatal shootings occurred, said both shootings were close to his job and minutes away from where he lives.
“When I heard it was a shooting my mind started going places and I immediately thought about Monterey Park,” Martinez, 47, said.
He was relieved when he learned that the alleged gunman was arrested.
“Stuff like this doesn’t happen here. Ever,” Martinez said. “We see car accidents and that’s usually the most dangerous, until yesterday.”
Teresa Helms of nearby Paradise, California, stopped by the crafts store along with her husband later. She too was relieved a suspect was taken into custody.
“If he hadn’t been caught, we wouldn’t be here,” said Helms, 53, who grew up in Half Moon Bay. “It’s like you’re not safe anywhere anymore. You just have to be careful of your surroundings, no matter where you are.”
Zhao was booked on suspicion of seven counts of murder and one count of attempted murder, jail records showed.
The suspect will be arraigned Wednesday, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said.
The Sheriff’s Office first received reports of a shooting just before 2:30 p.m. Monday, authorities said.
Half Moon Bay Vice Mayor Joaquin Jimenez said the victims included Chinese and Latino farmworkers.
Some workers at one facility lived on the premises, and children may have witnessed the shooting, Corpus said. She said it wasn’t immediately clear how the two locations were connected.
Corpus said Tuesday that the victims were five men and two women. She said the coroner’s office is still working to identify the victims and notify their next of kin, a task that presents “unique challenges” because some of the victims are members of the migrant community.
The person in the hospital was in stable condition, Corpus said. The only known connection between the victims and the suspect is that they may have been co-workers, she said.
Zhao, 66, a resident of Half Moon Bay, was arrested without incident at his car in the parking lot of the Half Moon Bay Police Substation more than two hours after deputies arrived at the first shooting scene, Corpus said. A semi-automatic handgun was in his vehicle, according to Corpus. She said Tuesday the gun was legally purchased and owned.
Officials believe Zhao is a worker at one of the facilities, and the victims were workers as well. Some workers at one facility lived on the premises and children may have witnessed the shooting, Corpus said. The connection between the new facilities wasn’t clear.
Corpus said officials hadn’t determined a motive for the shooting, though county board of supervisors President Dave Pine described the suspect as a “disgruntled worker.”
President Joe Biden issued a statement saying he and his wife, Jill, were praying for the victims.
“For the second time in recent days, California communities are mourning the loss of loved ones in a senseless act of gun violence,” the statement said.
Biden said he met with his Homeland Security team and directed his administration to ensure local authorities and the broader Half Moon Bay community have full support of “in the wake of this heinous attack.”
Biden also lobbied for his latest gun control bill, noting that Sen. Barbara Feinstein, D-Calif., was among lawmakers who reintroduced a bill that would include a federal assault weapons ban and legislation that would raise the minimum purchase age for assault weapons to 21.
“Even as we await further details on these shootings, we know the scourge of gun violence across America requires stronger action,” the statement said. “I once again urge both chambers of Congress to act quickly and deliver this Assault Weapons Ban to my desk, and take action to keep American communities, schools, workplaces, and homes safe.”
Half Moon Bay is a coastal community of about 12,000 people 30 miles south of San Francisco. The city becomes the site of the second mass shooting in California in two days, sitting almost 400 miles northwest of Monterey Park. Eleven people were killed in a shooting rampage at a dance studio there Saturday night; the suspected shooter was later found dead in a van.
Contributing: Thao Nguyen, USA TODAY; The Associated Press